Kemi Badenoch debates with HM Treasury

There have been 15 exchanges between Kemi Badenoch and HM Treasury

Thu 17th September 2020 Support for Self-employed and Freelance Workers 5 interactions (2,032 words)
Tue 15th September 2020 Oral Answers to Questions 17 interactions (446 words)
Tue 7th July 2020 Oral Answers to Questions 24 interactions (538 words)
Thu 18th June 2020 Finance Bill (Tenth sitting) (Public Bill Committees) 9 interactions (1,439 words)
Tue 16th June 2020 Finance Bill (Seventh sitting) (Public Bill Committees) 31 interactions (3,448 words)
Tue 16th June 2020 Finance Bill (Eighth sitting) (Public Bill Committees) 23 interactions (3,382 words)
Thu 4th June 2020 Public Health England Review: Covid-19 Disparities (Urgent Question) 85 interactions (3,821 words)
Thu 4th June 2020 Finance Bill (First sitting) (Public Bill Committees) 6 interactions (693 words)
Mon 18th May 2020 Oral Answers to Questions 8 interactions (173 words)
Thu 31st January 2019 Equitable Life 5 interactions (82 words)
Tue 6th November 2018 Oral Answers to Questions 5 interactions (66 words)
Tue 27th March 2018 Digital Taxation (Westminster Hall) 3 interactions (669 words)
Wed 21st February 2018 Finance (No. 2) Bill 7 interactions (97 words)
Tue 23rd January 2018 Trade Bill (Second sitting) (Public Bill Committees) 3 interactions (700 words)
Tue 18th July 2017 Oral Answers to Questions 5 interactions (79 words)

Support for Self-employed and Freelance Workers

Kemi Badenoch Excerpts
Thursday 17th September 2020

(6 days, 9 hours ago)

Commons Chamber
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HM Treasury
Wes Streeting Portrait Wes Streeting - Hansard
17 Sep 2020, midnight

That is absolutely true. One of the things I find most worrying about the trends we have seen is that—as if the inequality that has gripped this country was not bad enough entering the crisis—there have been two very different experiences of the pandemic. If people are in a job with stable employment and have had money coming in every month, they may well be one of the households who has contributed to a record rise in savings. They may well feel that their outgoings have gone down and that they can start planning for home improvements or a decent family holiday. However, if people have lost their job, or were self-employed or freelance and their business activity went completely down to zero, this has been an absolutely terrible experience. I do not think that any of us, unless we have been in that position, can really understand what those people are going through.

In conclusion, I say to the Minister, whose task in responding to the debate I do not envy—with the notable and honourable exception of the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Anthony Browne), I think she has found herself pretty alone in this debate—that the cross-party calls for the Government to listen, even to meet, are overwhelming. The privilege of being able to govern comes with the responsibility of taking action, of seeing people through difficult times. We know that the Government have a difficult job. We would not have wished this pandemic on anyone, but so many of us on both sides of the House simply do not understand the Chancellor’s intransigence, stubbornness and unwillingness to listen on this issue. So please, I beg the Minister, on behalf of millions of people across this country who have felt unheard or excluded: it is time to act.

Kemi Badenoch Portrait The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Kemi Badenoch) - Hansard
17 Sep 2020, 12:02 a.m.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) on securing the debate and acknowledge the many and varied contributions of right hon. and hon. Members across the House. The Government understand the crucial role that the self-employed, including members of partnerships and freelancers, play in this country’s economy. They are part of the lifeblood of British enterprise and they, too, have suffered during the months of the pandemic. We have not forgotten them, but we recognise that we have not been able to help everyone in the country exactly as they would have liked. However, what the Government have done has been unprecedented.

Since the launch of the self-employment income support scheme earlier this year, designed and implemented at speed, claims totalling £7.6 billion have been paid out to support more than 2.5 million people. That represented a first grant and we did not stop there. As of 17 August, individuals have been able to claim for a second and final self-employment scheme grant. This further grant is open to anyone who meets the eligibility criteria and whose business was adversely affected by covid-19 on or after 14 July 2020. Importantly, applicants do not need to have claimed the first grant and they can receive the support while continuing to work.

The eligibility criteria have been raised by many Members. The criteria for the scheme are fair and rightly aimed at delivering support to those who need it most. Self-employed individuals, including members of partnerships, are eligible if they submitted their tax return for the tax year 2018-19, continue to trade and have been adversely affected by covid-19. To qualify, their self-employed trading profits must be no more than £50,000 and at least equal to their non-trading income. Many Members have said that this is not enough, so I would like to pick up on those points.

My hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Richard Fuller) said that there is a discrepancy between the 3 million who are not served and the 95% that the Treasury is talking about. We are talking about people for whom at least half their income comes from being self-employed. Ninety-five per cent. of those people are covered—that is about 3.4 million people who were mainly self-employed in 2018-19 who should be eligible for this scheme. The statistics show that the scheme has helped individuals across the UK in all sorts of different sectors. The extension of the scheme also means that eligible individuals whose businesses are adversely affected, from or after 14 July, can claim a second and final grant until 19 October. That is a taxable grant worth 70% of their average monthly trading profits paid out in a single instalment. Like the first grant, the second grant will be based on three months’ worth of trading profits and capped at a maximum of £6,570. We are listening. Many different requests are coming through and we are trying to get a package that works, but that is balanced towards businesses, the consumers and the taxpayer.

Very many Members, including the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter), my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye (Sally-Ann Hart), the hon. Member for Belfast South (Claire Hanna) and others, have raised the case for those working in the arts. We do recognise that. The Government know the challenge facing creative organisations and practitioners as a result of the pandemic and the disruptive impact of the necessary measures on cultural and creative activity. We have announced a £1.57 billion cultural recovery fund to protect the cultural sectors through the covid-19 pandemic, and that money will also go to help those self-employed individuals who may not have been able to access schemes. None the less, as the economy opens, we believe that the situation will improve.

The self-employed, including freelancers, benefit not only from Government support specifically designed for their needs, but from schemes that we have created that will cover them, but that are not specifically targeted at them. They benefit, like so many others, from schemes such as bounce back loans, tax deferrals, rental support, increased levels of universal credit, mortgage holidays and other business support grants. The Government have spent £160 billion in support on interventions—as much as we have spent on the NHS and schools. That is alongside many other Government measures that will help support people and kickstart the economic recovery. The plan for jobs, for instance, will make up to £30 billion available to assist in creating, supporting and protecting jobs. I am pleased that hon. Members from across the House have acknowledged that the UK has one of the most generous self-employed support schemes in the world. However, today’s debate is about the concerns and not about the successes.

Several Members, including the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), are particularly interested in the eligibility of individuals who receive income from dividends issued by their own limited company. Although the Government understand that some business owners choose to pay themselves in the form of dividends, it has not been possible to include them in this scheme. The Government have worked closely with stakeholders and carefully considered the case for providing a new system for those who pay themselves through dividends, but it would be so much more complex than other existing income support schemes. My hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Anthony Browne) was very perceptive in raising the operational difficulties that it would entail. That is because, under current reporting mechanisms, it is just not possible for HMRC to distinguish between dividends derived from an individual’s own company and dividends derived from other sources. Unlike existing support schemes that use information that HMRC already holds, such a scheme would require individuals to make a claim and submit information that HMRC may not efficiently or consistently verify. Such verification would be essential to ensure that payments were made to eligible companies for eligible activity.

Many Members have talked about comparing notes with Companies House. I do not think that people really understand just how difficult that would be. It is not simply a matter of looking at Companies House. It would require so many manual compliance checks: those people who need money would have to send information to HMRC, which would then need to be cross-checked. That would be extremely arduous and due regard would have to be given to the opportunity cost for that resource—where compliance activity would have to be reduced elsewhere. In other words, the many checks that Members are asking for would make it even harder for us to help those people who are most at need. It is important that the House—

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell - Hansard

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch - Hansard
17 Sep 2020, 12:08 a.m.

I am afraid that I do not have enough time. I am sorry I am not taking interventions.

It is important that the House understands that we have not taken a deliberate stance against support for company owner managers who pay themselves through dividends. This is about understanding and identifying what is operationally feasible, managing technical complexities and fraud risks and ensuring that other forms of Government support are delivered in a timely way.

Owing to the Government’s reasonable concern to protect against fraud and error, it has also not been possible to include in the scheme those who are newly self-employed, which I know many Members have raised. That is because the most reliable and up-to-date record of self-employed income is from the 2018-19 tax records. Individuals can submit tax returns for 2019-20, but again there would be significant risks to the public if the Government relied on those returns for the scheme. That would create an opportunity for fraudulent activity through the returns—where no trading activity has taken place, where trading profits have been inflated to increase the size of the grant, and where trading profits have been reduced to below the £50,000 threshold in order to become eligible. The Government cannot expose the taxpayer to those risks, and the extension of the scheme would not mean that those concerns have been reduced.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh East (Tommy Sheppard), among others, raised the issue of parental leave. The treatment of self-employed parents is part of the scheme. As the Minister for Equalities, it is a subject close to my heart, made even closer by the fact that I recently returned from maternity leave. That is why I want to address the issue directly. Claiming maternity allowance or taking parental leave does not mean that trading has ceased and will not therefore affect a person’s eligibility for the self-employment scheme, as long as the individual intends to return to trading after parental leave.

In addition, we have listened to feedback from stakeholders and made changes to the scheme to benefit self-employed parents. Those parents who were previously ineligible for the scheme because they had not submitted a tax return for 2018-19, or because their trading profits in 2018-19 were less than other trading income because they were taking time off work to care for their newborn or adopted child, can now claim through the self-employment income support scheme. Those parents who have become eligible can now make a claim for the first grant, the second grant or both depending on when their business may have been adversely affected by covid-19. Again, we have made those changes. Many Members of Parliament have written to us with requests about that.

We are aware of concerns raised on how the grant is calculated, particularly for those who have taken parental leave. As the Chancellor indicated, delivering a scheme for the self-employed is a very difficult operational challenge, particularly in the time available. We are trying to get the money to people as quickly as possible. There is no way for HMRC to know from income tax self-assessment returns why an individual’s profits may have dropped in earlier years. However, to help those with volatile income in 2018-19, eligibility can be determined by profits in 2018-19 or by an average between 2016-17 and 2018-19. This scheme has been designed to deliver support as quickly as possible to millions of self-employed individuals by using information that HMRC already has. It is an enormous delivery challenge and we need to ensure that the changes do not risk delivery of the scheme.

The hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Margaret Ferrier) and others expressed concerns about the impact a second wave might have on the future income of their constituents and talked about extensions. The scheme will remain open for applications for the second and final grant until 19 October 2020. Unfortunately, it is the case that some businesses will be affected by covid-19 far longer than others, and the Government will seek to support those businesses appropriately. As I mentioned earlier, many other schemes can provide support to specific businesses.

Let me end by saying that we are living in unprecedented times. The Government needed to deliver support at incredible speed, prioritising those schemes that could help as many as possible, as quickly as possible. Once the scheme launched, we have remained flexible. We have worked with stakeholders to consider carefully the case for making changes. We listened and, where possible, acted to bring individuals into eligibility.

The Chancellor has acknowledged that the Government have not been able to support everyone in the exact way that they would want, and we have been clear from the beginning that delivering the scheme for the self-employed is very difficult in the time available. They are a very diverse and wide mix of people, with a diverse mix of turnover and profits and monthly and annual variations even in normal times. In many cases, they have substantial alternative forms of income, too. Despite the challenges, the scheme has delivered what it set out to do successfully, providing at speed much-needed income support.

I will endeavour to make sure that ExcludedUK and ForgottenPAYE, which so many Members praised, receive a ministerial response to their letters, and I am happy to write to those Members who have other areas that they feel have not been addressed today. I thank so many Members for contributing to this debate, and I hope colleagues will support the Government as we now turn our thoughts, energies and resources to looking forward and planning for the recovery.

Caroline Lucas Portrait Caroline Lucas - Parliament Live - Hansard

I thank all Members who have contributed to this debate and many others who I know wanted to do so, but could not because there was not time. All of us—even the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Anthony Browne)—want to see some changes to the scheme. There is no shame in saying that errors have been made and in trying to rectify them. That is all we are asking the Minister to do, yet I notice that she is still refusing to meet us. That is simply not acceptable.

The Minister says that the Government understand the crucial role that the self-employed play in our economy. No, they do not, otherwise she would not be suggesting that the self-employed just take more loans or they just have universal credit. She said that the Government have not forgotten them. The impression that has been left with people all around the country is that the Government have forgotten them. She says that the Government have not helped them as they would have liked. The Government have not helped this particular group of people at all.

I beg the Minister again. It is not enough to say that she will get a response—a much-delayed response—in writing to these excluded groups. They want a meeting. Why is that so much to ask? What happened to all the rhetoric about levelling up and the warm words about the Government putting their arms around everybody? Why are these people being excluded? Why are our innovators, our entrepreneurs and our risk takers being punished? This is not a party political issue. I am happy to commend the Government for the support they have put in place for the people who have been able to access it, but I want the Minister to acknowledge that some people have not been able to access it and to act now. I ask her again to meet with us.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered support for the self-employed and freelance workers during the covid-19 outbreak.

Oral Answers to Questions

Kemi Badenoch Excerpts
Tuesday 15th September 2020

(1 week, 1 day ago)

Commons Chamber
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HM Treasury
Mr William Wragg Portrait Mr William Wragg (Hazel Grove) (Con) - Hansard

What financial support he is providing to upgrade the energy efficiency of homes. [906056]

Kemi Badenoch Portrait The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Kemi Badenoch) - Hansard
15 Sep 2020, 12:08 p.m.

The Government recognise the importance of energy efficiency in achieving our climate change objectives and tackling fuel poverty. That is why in July my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced over £2 billion of new funding to upgrade homes through the green homes grant scheme. In addition, we have a range of policies in place to support home energy efficiency improvements.

Mr William Wragg Portrait Mr Wragg - Parliament Live - Hansard
15 Sep 2020, 12:08 p.m.

What assessment has my hon. Friend made of the benefits of this ambitious £2 billion scheme for home insulation, and when will my constituents be able to access it to make those improvements to their homes?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch - Parliament Live - Hansard

From the end of September, homeowners and landlords across England, including in my hon. Friend’s constituency, will be able to apply for vouchers to fund at least two thirds of the cost of upgrading the energy performance of their homes. In additional, Greater Manchester Combined Authority has the opportunity to bid for part of the £500 million being made available to local authorities to help low-income households directly.

Mrs Pauline Latham Portrait Mrs Pauline Latham (Mid Derbyshire) (Con) - Hansard

Whether he is responsible for the allocation of official development assistance to Government Departments other than the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. [906057]

Break in Debate

Lucy Powell Portrait Lucy Powell (Manchester Central) (Lab/Co-op) - Parliament Live - Hansard

What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on sectoral support for manufacturers during the covid-19 outbreak. [906073]

Kemi Badenoch Portrait The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Kemi Badenoch) - Parliament Live - Hansard
15 Sep 2020, 12:14 p.m.

The manufacturing sector has a key role to play in the Government’s ambitious agenda to build back better, which is why last week I met representatives of the UK’s major manufacturing trade associations to hear their views directly. To support the sector, we continue to provide extensive support for research and development as part of our commitment to increase it, economy-wide, to 2.4% of GDP by 2027.

Lucy Powell Portrait Lucy Powell - Hansard
15 Sep 2020, 11:30 a.m.

Many of the communities that voted for Conservative MPs for the first time in the recent election rely on our key manufacturing sectors such as aerospace and automotive for jobs. Given that the Government were prepared to create a £3 billion demand stimulus for the housing market, which was not as adversely affected by the pandemic, why will they not do a lot more to protect those jobs and communities with a demand stimulus for aerospace and automotive, which is desperately needed?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch - Hansard

The Government are acutely aware of the demands required across various sectors. The hon. Lady mentions the aerospace and automotive sectors, which the Government are supporting with over £8.5 billion through the covid corporate financing facility, grants for research and development, loans and export guarantees expected over the next 18 months. There is also further support in place for the automotive industry through the Budget, in which the Government committed over £1 billion to promote the uptake of ultra-low emissions vehicles, including up to £500 billion to support the roll-out of a superfast charging network. Those amounts will help those various sectors.

Patricia Gibson Portrait Patricia Gibson (North Ayrshire and Arran) (SNP) - Parliament Live - Hansard

If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. [906104]

Break in Debate

Mark Pawsey Portrait Mark Pawsey (Rugby) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard

Businesses in Rugby and Bulkington have told me universally how they welcome the measures that the Government have introduced for their speed and their breadth, but they know that the coming months will be difficult for trading and there are tough times ahead. Which of the Government’s measures, given limited resources, does the Minister think are the most appropriate to support businesses over the next few months? [906114]

Kemi Badenoch Portrait The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Kemi Badenoch) - Parliament Live - Hansard

The Government have a range of schemes that have been supporting businesses throughout the pandemic, as my colleagues have mentioned time and time again. If my hon. Friend has specific requests from the businesses in his constituency, I am very happy to discuss those with him so that we can work out the best way to continue to spur economic recovery.

Steve McCabe Portrait Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard

Does the Minister recognise that while the proposed changes to small breweries tax relief may well benefit members of the Small Brewers Duty Reform Coalition, they will work against the interests of fledgling micro-breweries, such as Attic Brew in my constituency? Will the Minister look again at the impact of the changes on those small, but job-creating businesses? [906131]

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch - Parliament Live - Hansard

We have been looking at this relief for several years now, and the changes that we have made are going to benefit the vast majority of brewers. The smallest brewers will be exempt from most of the changes, and those brewers who have been unable to grow will now be able to do so. We had a long consultation and quite a few brewery groups have been very supportive of this change. We will have further announcements to come after the next technical consultation on this relief.

Sir Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker - Hansard

In order to allow the safe exit of hon. Members participating in this item of business and the safe arrival of those participating in the next, I am now suspending the House for a few minutes.

Oral Answers to Questions

Kemi Badenoch Excerpts
Tuesday 7th July 2020

(2 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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HM Treasury
Martin Vickers Portrait Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con) - Hansard

What fiscal steps he is taking to (a) attract investment and (b) achieve economic growth in northern Lincolnshire. [904352]

Kemi Badenoch Portrait The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Kemi Badenoch) - Hansard

We recognise every region and community is impacted by this crisis. That is why the Government have announced unprecedented support for businesses and workers around the country. That includes 95 million to fund shovel-ready projects across the east midlands to help to provide a boost to the local economy and create jobs, building on over £120 million of local growth funding for Greater Lincolnshire for local projects such as Lincolnshire Lakes housing scheme.

Martin Vickers Portrait Martin Vickers - Hansard
7 Jul 2020, midnight

I thank the Minister for that. The Treasury is giving considerable support to our area, such as through the Greater Grimsby town deal. We are hoping for favourable designation for freeport status, but the most pressing case at the moment is support for the Able marine energy park in northern Lincolnshire. Modest support from the Treasury could help to create 2,000 jobs. Will the Minister, or indeed the Chancellor, agree to meet me and my hon. Friends the Members for Great Grimsby (Lia Nici), for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy) and for Scunthorpe (Holly Mumby-Croft) to deal with this?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch - Hansard
7 Jul 2020, midnight

My hon. Friend rightly champions the strength of his local area as we move to restart the economy and make progress to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Our renewable energy ambitions will continue to create opportunities at manufacturing centres, such as the Able marine energy park proposal, but I encourage him first to engage with my colleagues from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, as the lead Department on energy and industrial strategy.

Scott Benton Portrait Scott Benton (Blackpool South) (Con) - Hansard

What fiscal steps he is taking to improve local transport infrastructure. [904353]

Break in Debate

Clive Lewis Portrait Clive Lewis (Norwich South) (Lab) - Hansard

What assessment he has made of the potential merits of including a four-day working week as part of the Government's covid-19 recovery strategy. [904360]

Kemi Badenoch Portrait The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Kemi Badenoch) - Hansard

The Prime Minister recently set out the first steps of the Government’s strategy to rebuild and fuel economic recovery in response to covid-19. The Government believe the best way to secure a recovery is to invest across the UK to level up, while ensuring that we create the conditions for private enterprise to flourish.

Clive Lewis Portrait Clive Lewis [V] - Hansard

The Chancellor will have received a letter signed by Members from across the House, including myself, asking him to consider introducing a four-day working week as a way of helping the country recover and creating a better future post-covid-19. So will he commit to the Treasury exploring a four-day working week as part of its economic planning for the recovery? Will he also meet me and other Members to discuss how we can work together to make shorter working times a reality?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch - Hansard

The Government believe that the best way of dealing with these issues is for workers to look at existing options available for flexible working and discuss them directly with their employers, rather than the Government legislating for the entire UK work- force. However, I am happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss this topic further, if he would like.

Robbie Moore Portrait Robbie Moore (Keighley) (Con) - Hansard

What fiscal steps he is taking to support high street businesses affected by the covid-19 outbreak. [904361]

Break in Debate

Jo Gideon Portrait Jo Gideon (Stoke-on-Trent Central) (Con) - Hansard

What fiscal steps he is taking to support the charity sector during the covid-19 outbreak. [904367]

Kemi Badenoch Portrait The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Kemi Badenoch) - Hansard

Alongside unprecedented support for individuals and businesses in the light of the covid-19 outbreak, the Government have announced a £750 million support package for charities, £360 million of which will be allocated directly to charities providing essential services and £200 million will go to local charities through the National Lottery Community Fund.

Jo Gideon Portrait Jo Gideon - Hansard

I thank the Minister for that answer and for the support that enabled charities to develop new ways of working during lockdown. Will the Minister outline how this Government’s support has helped my constituents in Stoke-on-Trent Central?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch - Hansard

My hon. Friend is right to highlight the extraordinary innovations of charities in Stoke-on-Trent and across the country. We have seen innovation and adaptation right across the economy, made possible in part by the unprecedented level of support that we have been referring to during this session. As of the end of last week, £230 million had been disbursed from the Government’s charity support fund.

Damian Collins Portrait Damian Collins (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con) - Hansard

What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on ensuring that businesses in the (a) hospitality and (b) tourism sector receive adequate support during the covid-19 outbreak. [904369]

Stephen Doughty Portrait Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op) - Hansard

What fiscal support he is providing to the (a) theatre and (b) entertainment sector during the covid-19 outbreak. [904384]

Kemi Badenoch Portrait The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Kemi Badenoch) - Hansard

The Treasury is working extensively with employers, taskforces and industry groups to understand the long-term effects of covid-19 across all key areas of the economy, including the artistic, creative, tourism and hospitality sectors. We will continue to monitor the impact of Government support on the economy.

Damian Collins Portrait Damian Collins [V] - Hansard

While hotels, hospitality businesses and holiday parks are reopening in my constituency, many businesses fear that this will be a year of three winters. What support are the Government considering beyond what has been delivered so far? In particular, would the Treasury consider the tourism and hospitality sector’s request to cut VAT to 5% for those businesses?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch - Hansard

As ever, all taxes are kept under review, and changes are announced at fiscal events. My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that admissions to cultural venues, for example, are already exempt from VAT if they are provided by a local authority or an eligible body, such as a charity. We will continue to review the situation.

Stephen Doughty Portrait Stephen Doughty - Hansard

Like many other Members, I met this morning with ExcludedUK and people such as freelancers, many of whom are in the creative industries, who have fallen between the gaps of the different Government schemes. The package that has been announced for the creative industries is welcome, but what will the Government do to support the many thousands of people in those industries, including in Cardiff South and Penarth, who have fallen between the gaps?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch - Hansard

The UK continues to have one of the world’s most generous coronavirus support schemes, including for many self-employed people such as those to whom the hon. Gentleman refers. He will know that the Government recently announced a £1.57 billion cultural fund, and such funds are being targeted at the very people he mentions.

Jonathan Gullis Portrait Jonathan Gullis (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Con) - Hansard

What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Education on ensuring adequate funding for schools. [904370]

Finance Bill (Tenth sitting)

(Committee Debate: 10th sitting: House of Commons)
Kemi Badenoch Excerpts
Thursday 18th June 2020

(3 months, 1 week ago)

Public Bill Committees
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HM Treasury
Kemi Badenoch Portrait The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Kemi Badenoch) - Hansard
18 Jun 2020, 2:50 p.m.

New clauses 4, 19 and 20 would require the Chancellor to review the environmental impact of the Finance Bill and its impact on the UK’s meeting the UN sustainable development goals and UN Paris climate change commitments. The new clauses are not necessary and should not stand part of the Bill. Tackling climate change is a top priority for the Government, as demonstrated by the UK becoming the first major economy to pass legislation committing to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. The Bill builds on the UK’s existing strong environmental record and commitments by delivering new policies to reduce carbon emissions and enhance the environment, and it provides significant incentives to support the continued decarbonisation of transport.

Clause 83 establishes tax support for zero-emissions vehicles, exempting them from the vehicle excise duty expensive car supplement. From April 2020, vehicle excise duty and company car tax will also be based on a new, improved laboratory test known as the worldwide harmonised light vehicle test procedure, or WLTP, which aims to help reduce the 40% gap between the previous lab tests and real-world carbon dioxide emissions.

The Bill will ensure that HMRC can make preparations for the introduction of the plastic packaging tax, which will incentivise businesses to use 30% recycled plastic instead of new material in plastic packaging from April 2022, stimulating increased recycling. The Government are also reopening and extending the climate change agreement scheme to support energy-intensive businesses to operate in a more environmentally friendly way.

Clause 93, which establishes a UK emissions trading system, and clause 92, which updates legislation relating to the carbon emissions tax, ensure that polluters will continue to pay a price for their emissions once our membership of the EU and the emissions trading system ends following the transition period.

New clause 4 would require an impact assessment of the Bill on the environment to be laid before Parliament within six months of Royal Assent. Where tax policies have a particular environmental impact, the Government will take that into account during the tax policy making process and, where appropriate, publish a summary of the impact in the relevant tax information and impact note, or TIIN, as it is otherwise known. The Bill’s clauses demonstrate our progress towards tackling climate change as well as towards international deals and agreements, without the need for an additional environmental impact review.

The hon. Member for Ilford North made several comments about our spending more money on coronavirus than on climate change and about our not being on track to meet our net zero targets. All I can say to him is that many of the actions that we need to take to deliver our climate targets also help the UK’s economy to recover from the impacts of covid-19. We do not look at those issues separately. He must remember that between 1990 and 2017 the UK reduced its emissions by 42% while growing the economy by more than two thirds. It is simply wrong to say that we are not doing enough on climate change.

Building on our ambitious announcements in the Budget, such as the £800 million fund for carbon capture and storage, we are developing ideas for how we can go further using clean, sustainable and resilient growth as a guiding principle for our strategy to recover from the impact of the virus.

New clauses 19 and 20 would require a review of the impact of the Bill on the UK’s meeting the UN sustainable development goals and Paris climate change agreements. The UK published a voluntary national review setting out in detail our progress towards the sustainable development goals and identifying areas of further work in June 2019. We remain committed to supporting implementation of the sustainable development goals, including to help us build back better from the covid-19 crisis. By working to achieve the sustainable development goals, we will also be better placed to withstand future crises.

Under the Paris agreement, the Government must maintain and report on their emissions reduction commitments in the form of a nationally determined contribution. The UK’s legally binding commitment to reduce emissions to net zero by 2050 is among the most stringent in the world, and the system of governance implementing the commitment under the Climate Change Act 2008 is world leading.

The Committee on Climate Change, established under the CCA 2008, provides independent evidence-based advice to the UK Government on how to achieve the targets. It reports to Parliament annually on progress made in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and on preparing for and adapting to the impacts of climate change. The Government are committed to tackling climate change. The measures in the Bill already demonstrate that, as well as highlighting our progress towards achieving net zero emissions by 2050, which is one of the most ambitious climate change commitments in the world. In this context, a separate review of the environmental impact of the Bill and how it meets international agreement is unnecessary. I therefore ask the Committee to reject the amendments.

Wes Streeting Portrait Wes Streeting - Hansard

I am concerned by the complacency of the speech that we have just heard from the Exchequer Secretary. I do not think it is sufficient to say that the UK is doing enough to tackle climate change and to meet our net zero ambition when all of the evidence suggests that that is not the case. That reinforces even further the case to run a proper impact assessment on the Bill.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

Break in Debate

Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss - Hansard
19 Jun 2020, 12:03 a.m.

I rise to speak to new clause 17 and associate myself with the remarks of the hon. Member for Ilford North, with which I broadly agree and support. We certainly support new clause 5, which chimes with our new clause. We live in a society where it is clear and evident that able-bodied older white men do better than almost everybody else, so what we want to see from the Finance Bill is who benefits from the measures within it and how we know that. We do not know that from how the Government have acted, as they have conducted a very light-touch equality impact assessment on the Budget.

The Women’s Budget Group has produced an excellent briefing, and it calls the Treasury out on failing to publish comprehensive equality impact assessments:

“The only impact assessment relating to protected characteristics in the Budget documents are the Tax Information and Impact Notes (TIINS) produced by HMRC. Only a few measures were recognised to have any equalities impact at all and even here the analysis is cursory, based on limited evidence and with a poor understanding of equality impact…In the absence of a meaningful cumulative equality impact assessment of the budget as a whole it is impossible to judge whether the Treasury has met its obligation under the Public Sector Equality Duty to have ‘due regard’ to equality.”

That is pretty damning on the equality impact assessments that Ministers say they have carried out.

Under the measures assessed as having an equalities impact in the equality impact assessment, the Women’s Budget Group notes that for the lifetime limit for capital gains tax entrepreneurs’ relief, the assessment recognises that

“claimants tend to be older, men, of above-average means, and include individuals who are selling their business or their company’s shares on retirement”,

and does not anticipate an impact on any other groups sharing a protected characteristic, but there is no working to show how the Government arrived at that. There is no further analysis as to why they think that no other groups will be affected. It is one thing to assert that, but the Government have to show their working, and they have not done that.

The Women’s Budget Group also notes that the equality impact assessment states that the measure on pensions tax income thresholds for calculating the tapered annual allowance will impact more on men than on women. The assessment states that it is

“not anticipated that there will be impacts on any other groups sharing protected characteristics”.

However, the Women’s Budget Group points out that the family resources survey could have been used to assess the impact by age, ethnicity, disability and various other characteristics, but that was not done. Again, it is not a full equality impact assessment; it is very light touch.

The WBG also mentions the changes to the disguised remuneration loan charge as referenced in the equality impact assessment. The analysis states that,

“broadly the measure is expected to affect more males than females”,

but that it is

“not anticipated that this measure will have a significant, or disproportionate, impact on groups with protected characteristics”.

However, there is no explanation for that. It might well be true, but we cannot tell because the Government have not shown their working.

The Women’s Budget Group analysis also discusses measures where no equalities impact is identified at all, when it really should have been. I do not want to go into all of these things, because they are multiple, and we would be here all afternoon, but I will touch on the changes to the van benefit charge and fuel benefit charges for cars and vans and the taxable benefits regime for measuring CO2 emissions, which primarily impact on

“individuals who use a company van or car which is available for their private use and/or who are provided with fuel for their private use by their employer”.

Those people are far more likely to be men. We might guess that, or we might anticipate that. The Government’s statistics on driving licences show that in 2018, 81% of men had a driving licence, compared with 70% of women. There are also issues of race, because 62% of people designated as Asian, 52% who are black, and 76% of people who are white have driving licences. That is a clear discrepancy and will have a clear differential effect as to who will or will not benefit from the measures. The Government already have those statistics but have not chosen to do an equalities impact assessment on them. There will be a differential impact because not everyone has a driving licence and those who do have one are predominantly white men.

The Government might want to look at the sectors that would benefit. There may be differences in the types of people who would do jobs with a company car or van. The Government might want to look at those sectors and say, “Actually, there is a disproportionate number of people of a particular background in there.” That has not been done. If we do not count those things we do not know what the impact is. We do not know who benefits and why, or what we can do to make sure that everyone benefits from the measures that the Government propose.

That, I suppose, is just a small example of why the impact assessment is needed. There are clear disparities across society and clear inequalities. If we do not count in the Finance Bill who benefits, why, and what can be done to redress the imbalances that we see in society in front of us, by taxation or other measures, we will never be able to address those inequalities and go to a more equal society.

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch - Hansard
18 Jun 2020, 3:12 p.m.

New clause 5 would require the Chancellor to conduct and lay before the House an equality impact assessment of the Act within six months of Royal Assent. New clause 17 would require him to lay a similar report within 12 months. Those additional reporting requirements are not necessary. The Treasury considers carefully the equality impacts of the individual measures mentioned and announced at fiscal events on those sharing protected characteristics, including gender, race and disability, in line with its legal obligations and its strong commitment to equality issues.

The outcome of all fiscal events is published, and is subject to much parliamentary and public scrutiny. The Treasury also takes care to pay due regard to the equality impact of its policy decisions relating to the covid-19 outbreak, in line with all legal requirements and the Government’s commitment to promoting equality. There are internal procedural requirements and support in place, to ensure that such considerations inform decisions taken by Ministers.

In the interest of transparency the Treasury and HMRC publish tax information and impact notes for individual tax measures that include in summary form assessments of their expected equalities impacts. The system of accompanying tax legislation with TIINs was introduced under this Government, and the notes include headline summaries of equality impacts, as well as other important information that reflects internal assessments carried out as an integral part of decision making.

In addition, the Treasury already publishes analyses of the impacts of the Government’s measures on households at different levels of income, in the “Impact on households” report, which is published separately alongside each Budget, along with trends in living standards and the labour market, by region and income level. That is the most comprehensive analysis of its type available, and it shows that as a result of decisions taking in Spending Round 2019 and Budget 2020 the poorest households have gained the most as a percentage of net income.

That brings me to the comments of the hon. Member for Ilford North and the hon. Member for Glasgow Central. They keep talking about the Government not doing enough on inequalities. Actually the Government have done quite a lot, but the hon. Members refuse to acknowledge it. When we have commissions and recommendations the hon. Member for Ilford North complains about a new commission. We have carried out recommendations, and the hon. Members pretend that nothing has happened. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the shadow Justice Secretary. Did he ask him about the progress that we have made on the Lammy report? We have carried out many of those recommendations, but hon. Members stand up in Parliament and pretend that nothing has happened. They continue to use incendiary and inflammatory rhetoric. Is it any wonder that there are people out there who feel that the Government are doing nothing, when so many MPs in this House stand up and say so? It is a shame, and as Equalities Minister I think it is a disgrace.

Break in Debate

Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss - Hansard


Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch - Hansard
18 Jun 2020, 3:16 p.m.

No, I am not giving way; Opposition Members have had their time. I ask the hon. Lady, instead of trying to give me lectures, to take some time to learn a little more about what is going on. Even the phrase she talks about—“people with protected characteristics”—is wrong; we all have protected characteristics. The Equality Act is for everybody and not for specific groups of people.

On that note, neither of the new clauses would be useful in finding out more about the impact on equality, because the Government regularly publish in summary form the equality impact assessments for the legislation that we introduce. The reports required by the new clauses would not add any genuine value, so I ask the Committee to reject them.

Wes Streeting Portrait Wes Streeting - Hansard
18 Jun 2020, 3:18 p.m.

That speech was really quite extraordinary and incendiary itself in response to what has been said. We are giving voice to the statistics and the data. Speaking for myself—I imagine this is also true for the SNP spokesperson—I am particularly giving voice to the concerns of my constituents. I represent one of the most ethnically and religiously diverse constituencies in the country. People who have written to me in recent weeks have not done so simply out of anger or emotion, and certainly not because they have read something that I have said in Hansard—that would be a novelty—but because of their own lived experiences. That is the frustration for me.

It would be one thing had the Government said this afternoon, “This is what we have done, but we recognise that there are big challenges, so this is what we still plan to do,” but their response to the protests of recent weeks has been tone deaf, for the most part, and actively irresponsible in other respects. It is regrettable that we do not seem to be seizing the moment, either in Government or as a Parliament, to reassure people throughout the country that we will leap on this moment. If we look throughout history, we see that sometimes events occur and there are big moments that can positively shift the dial in the most remarkable way. That is what we should be seeking to do here. I have actually seen a better response in that respect from the private sector than from our own Government. The private sector does not have a democratic accountability to the people—it has a commercial one and a profit motive; if companies are doing these things out of a sense of corporate social responsibility, that is good for them—but the Government have democratic accountability.

The Government’s efforts on equalities do not match the rhetoric we heard from the Minister. The Treasury has a particular leadership role to play, particularly on tackling economic inequalities that have an impact on people from a range of characteristics, for a range of reasons, and in different ways. With that in mind, I want to press new clause 5 to a vote.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

Finance Bill (Seventh sitting)

(Committee Debate: 7th sitting: House of Commons)
Kemi Badenoch Excerpts
Tuesday 16th June 2020

(3 months, 1 week ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Bill Main Page
HM Treasury
Wes Streeting Portrait Wes Streeting - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 12:05 a.m.

I shall begin by addressing the SNP’s amendment 10. It is important to look carefully at the relationship between alcohol taxation and public health. We have seen in other areas of taxation, notably the sugar tax, the huge impact that decisions taken by the Treasury can have on public health and public health outcomes. It is long past time for us to look seriously and sensibly at whether more can be done to reduce the impact of alcohol and alcoholism on people’s lives and communities.

Turning to clause 79, I have had the opportunity to do a much deeper dive into some of the issues, not least because of the determined efforts of my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr Perkins). Anyone who has ever been lobbied by him will know that when it comes to standing up for his constituents and for businesses in his constituency, there is no more determined, stubborn and irrefutable representation than that which he provides. He has raised serious concerns about the impact of the clause on businesses in his constituency. I shall outline some of those concerns, in the hope that Ministers will consider their bearing on Government policy.

We understand perfectly what the Government are trying to achieve with clause 79. The clause amends the Alcoholic Liquor Duties Act 1979, to introduce sanctions for post duty point dilution of wine or made-wine, which, if carried out before the duty point, would have resulted in a higher amount of duty being payable. That change has, in effect, already come into force and we are legislating for it this morning. The change is perfectly understandable. It is designed to bring more revenue into the Treasury that would otherwise be, and is being, lost. I understand the Government’s position that post duty point dilution carries significant legal and revenue risk for the Exchequer.

The Wine and Spirit Trade Association is against the legislation, claiming it would put hundreds of jobs at risk and place more pressure on the industry. Recently, thanks to the initiative of my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield, I had the opportunity to speak to Global Brands, a business based in his constituency that makes VK and Hooch, among other products. We know that covid-19 is having a huge impact on the licensed trade industry and on alcohol sales in particular, affecting not only pubs but the producers of wines, spirits and other beverages. Global Brands is concerned that, because of the financial burden placed on its business by the clause, combined with the impact of covid-19, it expects to make 50% of its workforce redundant, putting 200 jobs at risk as a result of this change. If I can characterise our discussions in this way, it would be accurate to say that Global Brands accepts that this change is inevitable, and that the Treasury has a settled view on it, but it hopes that the Treasury might consider a 12-month delay in implementation—from April 2020 to April 2021—arguing that this would give it time to recover from the covid-19 shock, leaving it better able to absorb the change.

Global Brands makes other arguments that the Treasury may want to take into account. In particular, Global Brands sells what were commonly known as alcopops, a low alcohol by volume product—typically around 4% ABV. It is concerned that the impact of the change will be that, ironically, its low alcohol product would be taxed higher per unit of alcohol than much higher strength products, which flies in the face of the Government’s stated policy of discouraging high-strength alcohol and its impact on public health.

It is also worth highlighting that the Government have already announced their intention to conduct a wider review of alcohol taxation. I wonder whether it makes sense, from the point of view of business resilience and of giving companies such as Global Brands more time to cope with the covid-19 shock before absorbing this change, for the Treasury to consider this delay alongside the range of other issues that it will consider as part of its wider review of alcohol taxation. We might have been minded to table an amendment to probe the 12-month delay, but we were advised that such an amendment would not be in scope because the foundation resolution is clear about the date on which this change takes effect.

That is another reason why—I gently make this point again to Ministers—we feel strongly about the way in which the Treasury has restricted the scope of amendments and the debate by not introducing an amendment of the law resolution, as has been the case historically. As well as denying Opposition Members the opportunity to table broad, sweeping, political amendments to the Finance Bill, that also has practical implications. I impress on Ministers and the usual channels the need to reconsider that for future Finance Bills.

Finally, when my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield and I spoke to Global Brands just the other week, I was particularly impressed not just by the jobs and economic activity it provides in Chesterfield, but at the fact that its wider supply chain is virtually entirely British. Its ingredients, packaging and labelling are all derived from a British supply chain. I do wonder whether the Treasury has really thought through the timing of the change, the impact that it will have on businesses such as Global Brands, and where it might position such businesses in relation to their international competitors that are not providing jobs in this country and do not have a supply chain rooted here.

Given the unemployment statistics out today, we know that structural unemployment will become one of the biggest political issues and economic challenges in our country. Structural unemployment in Britain will become a feature of our life in a way that, frankly, it was not 10 years ago, in the wake of the financial crisis, and has not been for decades. The Government must do everything they can to protect jobs, which is why we have called today for them to come forward not just with fiscal measures in July, but a full-on, jobs-first Budget—because we are worried about the impact of covid-19 on unemployment.

The representations on clause 79 from Global Brands and from my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield remind us of the risk of the unintended consequences of Government policy. Given the impact on jobs and the supply chain and the fact that the Treasury is in any case preparing to undertake a review of alcohol taxation, I wonder whether the call for the Government to delay the measure by 12 months is not eminently reasonable—and whether they might come forward with their own change to the Bill on Report.

Kemi Badenoch Portrait The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Kemi Badenoch) - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 12:09 a.m.

Clause 79 makes changes to alcohol duty legislation to introduce prohibitive sanctions for anyone who dilutes wine or made-wine once that product has passed a duty point. It will ensure fairness by providing equity of treatment across the drinks industry and will tackle future revenue risks for the Exchequer.

Post duty point dilution is a practice that enables wine and made-wine producers to reduce the excise duty that they pay by diluting the product after duty has been paid. Because the dilution increases the volume of wine and made-wine for sale, with no additional duty being paid, less duty is paid than would otherwise be due. UK legislation does not expressly prevent post duty point dilution for wine and made-wine, although it is prohibited for all other alcohol products. The practice gives certain wine or made-wine producers a tax advantage over those who produce other categories of alcohol, of which dilution is not permitted, and over others in their own sector who cannot make use of the practice.

Clause 79 will introduce new prohibitive sanctions for anyone who dilutes wine or made-wine once that product has passed a duty point on or after 1 April 2020. Introducing new sanctions to prevent the practice will maintain the principle that excise duty is calculated only on a finished product when it is released from production premises or on import. It will ensure fairness by providing equity of treatment across the drinks industry and will tackle future revenue risks for the Exchequer.

A review of the practice was launched at autumn Budget 2017, during which HMRC engaged extensively with industry and gathered a large amount of evidence to inform a decision. At Budget 2018, the Government announced the findings of the review and their intention to stop the practice being used for wine and made-wine, as is already the case for other types of alcohol. However, the Government also announced that that would not take effect until April 2020. That has given those businesses affected almost three years to prepare for the change, allowing them time to reformulate or diversify into the production of new lines.

Amendment 10 would require the Chancellor to review the public health effects of the post duty point dilution sanctions. When making changes to the alcohol duty system, the Government take into account a wide range of factors, including economic inequalities and health impacts. The new sanctions follow an extensive review by HMRC in 2017. Draft legislation was published in July 2019, alongside which a tax information and impact note was published on the website, detailing the various factors that the Government have considered. The amendment is therefore unnecessary, as the Government have already published our assessment of the effect on public health. For the convenience of the Committee, I will reiterate that assessment. The Government expect that

“wine or made-wine may become slightly more expensive…there may be a positive health impact with less wine being consumed. However, this benefit may be offset if any increase in price leads to consumers switching to higher strength products.”

Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 10:29 a.m.

I am sure the Minister has seen the graph that sets pence per unit against alcohol by volume. To say that it looks as though it was drawn by a child with a crayon is being generous to children with crayons. Will she consider a wider review of the duty per unit of alcohol by product type, because at the moment it makes absolutely no sense?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch - Hansard

I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. I am not quite sure which chart she is referring to, and I do not accept her comments. We must remember that the purpose of the clause is primarily to close a tax loophole.

Wes Streeting Portrait Wes Streeting - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 10:29 a.m.

I understand what the Minister says about closing a loophole and about the time that businesses have been given to prepare for the change, but does she not think that the impact of covid-19 has a bearing here? Given the representations that are being made about the impact of the double whammy, would she at least go away and consider the merits of a 12-month delay, and write to me and my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield to set out her thinking once she has had a chance to do that?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 10:31 a.m.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question. That is something that I have considered. I have had representations from the hon. Member for Chesterfield, Global Brands and other Members of Parliament, and I will take into account the points made by the hon. Member for Ilford North made in his speech.

On job losses, the announcement was made with enough time for people to prepare. We may not have been aware of covid, but postponing implementation any further would mean that the companies that adapted to the announcement about prohibiting post duty point dilution would be disadvantaged compared with companies that have not prepared since the announcement. We do not believe that that is fair.

On the point about the low alcohol value and moving the measure to stronger products, that is something that we have factored in. We will have a wider alcohol duty review—the hon. Gentleman referenced that. The Treasury has considered all those things, and we still do not feel that they are appropriate.

Wes Streeting Portrait Wes Streeting - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 10:29 a.m.

I am grateful to the Minister for being generous in giving way again. She will be pleased to hear that I will not labour the previous point.

As part of the Treasury’s review, will the Minister take into account the case for minimum unit pricing for alcohol? We have already heard the positive case from Scotland, and there is an active campaign for it. It would be useful for all of us involved in policy making if the Treasury review looked at the merits and the arguments against so that Parliament can make informed decisions.

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 10:33 a.m.

The Government are monitoring the emerging evidence from the introduction of minimum unit pricing in Scotland and, recently, Wales, and we have addressed public health concerns in the duty system. For example, in February 2019, duty rates on white ciders were increased to tackle consumption. We must remember that the UK operates a single excise regime, so it is not possible to devolve duty rates. It is worth noting that many of the problems that have been raised are actually caused by EU rules, according to officials. I can write to the hon. Gentleman and other Members who want further clarification on that point.

Felicity Buchan Portrait Felicity Buchan (Kensington) (Con) - Hansard

Does my hon. Friend agree that, although this is a very interesting debate, we are here to talk about taxation, not public health policy on alcohol?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch - Hansard

I completely agree. I hope I have given enough answers to address the point raised by the amendment. We have already carried out an assessment on public health grounds, but this is tax legislation. I therefore ask that amendment 10 be withdrawn.

Clause 79 introduces a new sanction to prevent a practice that is currently available only in the wine and made-wine sectors and is used by only a small number of producers. Prevention of the practice by the use of prohibitive sanctions will address inequity of treatment across the alcohol industry and will create a level playing field so that alcohol products can compete more fairly in the marketplace. I therefore commend the clause to the Committee.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Break in Debate

Wes Streeting Portrait Wes Streeting - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 12:05 a.m.

If the hon. Member for Kensington does not think that there should be a relationship between public health and taxation, I am afraid she is really going to hate what I have to say on clause 80 and the Scottish National party amendment. For the same reason as before, I think there is a real case for looking at these issues in a joined-up way, and ensuring that our public health objectives are reinforced by the Treasury.

In its January 2020 Budget submission, the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies, in partnership with Action on Smoking and Health, recommended that the minimum excise tax should be updated annually to ensure that the minimum tax for tobacco products is the rate due for products sold at the weighted average price. In the light of those representations, I wonder whether the Government will consider the advice of public health experts, and what consideration they have given to committing to updating the MET on an annual basis from the date of the passing of this legislation.

As the all-party parliamentary group on smoking and health has noted, the covid-19 crisis means that reducing tobacco-related health inequalities should be a priority, now and in the longer term, to improve population health and resilience to any future disease outbreaks. Differences in smoking prevalence and smoking-related diseases are an important factor in the differences in morbidity and mortality from covid-19. If we are not going to think seriously about some of these public health challenges in the middle of a public health crisis, when will we, frankly?

There has also been a rise during lockdown in people’s exposure to second-hand smoke in the home. Households with children are twice as likely to report second-hand smoke in the home. We have already heard about the Scottish Government’s determination in that respect, but the Government’s prevention Green Paper set the target of the UK being smoke-free by 2030, which is defined as a prevalence of 5% or less. If we are going to do that, we really have to commit to doing it and make changes across the board to support that important goal, which we across the House share.

The argument that public health and taxation are not intertwined does not hold water. It is not fashionable to be nice about George Osborne in today’s Conservative party—it is even less fashionable in the Labour party, but I already have a cross to bear in my own party—and his sugar tax was hugely controversial when it was introduced. I do not mind saying that as I sat watching the announcement in the Budget I was a big cynic, not least because I am generally in favour, as a point of principle, of progressive taxation. I worry about any new charges or levies that have flat implications for people and households with different levels of income.

Taxation by its nature ought to be progressive wherever possible, but the sugar tax has been shown, over the fullness of time, to have had a really positive impact on sugar consumption in this country. The evidence shows that a public health epidemic, which I think is what obesity is, particularly affects those from the poorest backgrounds. The same is probably true of smoking and its health consequences not just for smokers, but for the people—particularly children—who breathe the smoke around them.

The all-party parliamentary group on smoking and health, ASH, the British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research UK, the Royal College of Physicians and many others are calling on the Government to adopt their road map to a smoke-free 2030. That would include the creation of a smoke-free 2030 fund, into which tobacco manufacturers would be legally required to give funds to finance the action needed to achieve the smoke-free 2030 goal.

What consideration have the Government given to the road map to a smoke-free 2030 and, in particular, the proposal that there should be some kind of levy on tobacco manufacturers? In the same way as the sugar tax was hypothecated to tackle obesity, what consideration have the Government given to introducing a hypothecated levy to take action to eliminate smoking?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 10:47 a.m.

Clause 80 increases the duty charge on all tobacco products by RPI inflation plus 2% in line with the tobacco duty escalator. In addition, the duty on hand-rolling tobacco will rise by an additional 4% to 6% above RPI inflation this year.

Smoking rates in the UK are falling, but they are still too high. Around 14% of adults are smokers. We have ambitious plans to reduce that still further, as set out by the Department of Health and Social Care in its tobacco control plan. That includes a commitment to continue the policy of maintaining high duty rates for tobacco products to improve public health. The UK has comprehensive tobacco control legislation, which is the envy of the world. However, smoking is still the single largest cause of preventable illness and premature death in the UK. It accounts for around 100,000 deaths per year and kills about half of all long-term users. According to Action on Smoking and Health, smoking costs society almost £14 billion per year, including £2 billion in costs to the NHS of treating disease caused by smoking.

At the Budget, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced that the Government were committed to maintaining the tobacco duty escalator until the end of the Parliament. The clause therefore specifies that the duty charged on all tobacco products will rise by 2% above RPI inflation. In addition, duty on hand-rolling tobacco will rise by an additional 4% to 6% above RPI inflation this year. The clause also specifies that for the minimum excise tax—the minimum amount of duty to be paid on a pack of cigarettes—the specific duty component will rise in line with cigarette duty.

The new tobacco duty rates will be treated as taking effect from 6 pm on the day they were announced: 11 March 2020. Recognising the potential interactions between tobacco duty rates and the illicit market, the Government announced at the Budget that they would publish a consultation on proposals for strengthened penalties for tobacco tax evasion as part of the track and trace system, including a £10,000 fixed penalty and a sliding scale for repeat offenders. In addition, the Government will strengthen the resources of trading standards and HMRC to help to combat the illicit tobacco trade, including the creation of a UK-wide HMRC intelligence-sharing hub. I hope the hon. Member for Ilford North will support that. I believe I have addressed quite a number of the points that he has raised.

I turn to amendment 11, which is designed to place a statutory requirement on my right hon. Friend the Chancellor to review the public health effects of changes to tobacco duty. The Chancellor assesses the impact of all potential changes in his Budget considerations every year. The tax information and impact note published alongside the Budget announcement sets out the Government’s assessment of the expected impacts. The Government are committed to improving public health by reducing smoking prevalence, and we co-ordinate these efforts through the tobacco control delivery plan 2017 to 2022, which also provides the framework for robust and ongoing policy evaluation. Accordingly, we review our duty rates at each fiscal event to ensure that they continue to meet our two objectives of protecting public health and raising revenue for vital public services.

I hope that reassures the Committee, and I ask Members to reject the amendment. The clause will continue our tried and tested policy of using high duty rates on tobacco products to make tobacco less affordable and continue the reduction in smoking prevalence, thus reducing the burden that smoking places on our public services.

On the point about a tobacco levy, I believe the Government laid out their position on introducing a levy in 2015. We do not believe a levy is an effective way to raise revenue or protect public health.

Amendment 11 negatived.

Clause 80 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 81

Rates for light passenger or light goods vehicles, motorcycles etc

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch - Hansard

Clause 81 makes changes to uprate the RPI vehicle excise duty rates for cars, vans and motorcycles with effect from 1 April 2020. VED is paid on vehicle ownership, and rates depend on the vehicle type and first registration date. The Government have uprated vehicle excise duty for cars, vans and motorcycles with inflation every year since 2010, which means rates have remained unchanged in real terms during this time. As announced in the 2018 Budget, all vehicle excise duty revenues will be used specifically for the national roads fund from this year, to provide certainty for road investment.

The changes made by clause 81 will uprate vehicle excise duty for cars, vans and motorcycles by RPI for the 10th successive year. As a result, the rates are unchanged in real terms since 2010, and that comes on top of the Government’s decision to freeze fuel duty rates for the ninth successive year. By April 2021, this will have saved the average car driver £1,200 in comparison with the pre-2010 escalator.

From April 2017, a reformed VED system was introduced that strengthened the environmental incentive when cars are first purchased, with all cars paying a standard rate in subsequent years. The standard rate will increase by only £5, the flat rate for vans will increase by £5 and the rate for motorcyclists will increase by no more than £2. These changes will ensure that the Government continue to support motorists with the cost of living, and that the vehicle excise duty system continues to incentivise the purchase of lower emission vehicles.

Felicity Buchan Portrait Felicity Buchan - Hansard

Does my hon. Friend agree that as the economy comes out of the dislocation of coronavirus, we need to build a greener and cleaner economy? Incentivising the use of low-carbon cars is part of that, and clearly we cannot do so just through the tax system; we also need a structure of electric charging points. I am glad to say that my borough is one of the top boroughs in the country in that regard. As we look to build a greener economy, I commend this clause and the related clauses.

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch - Hansard

I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention, and I agree with her.

Wes Streeting Portrait Wes Streeting - Hansard

Following a previous theme, we support this approach to incentivising the use of greener and more environmentally friendly vehicles. It shows how decisions taken at the Treasury can support the public policy aims of other Departments and promote positive consumer change. Clearly, we have to do a lot more to ensure that people are using environmentally friendly vehicles, which produce fewer emissions and have a less detrimental impact on air quality and the wider environment than other vehicles do. I, in common with many stakeholders, welcome the reduced rate applied to alternatively fuelled light passenger vehicles, including hybrids and those powered by bioethanol and liquid petroleum gas.

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch - Hansard

I think that is a point we can all agree on. The Government are doing a lot to encourage the uptake of low emission and zero emission vehicles. As I mentioned earlier, the reformed VED system was introduced in 2017 for new cars. To elaborate, on first registration the owners of zero emission models pay nothing, while those of the most polluting pay more than £2,000. In subsequent years, most cars move to a standard rate, which is currently set at £145. The exceptions are electric cars, which attract a zero rate, and hybrids, which receive a £10 discount.

In the Budget, the Government announced a number of further steps to reduce zero emission vehicle costs, including exempting zero emission cars from the vehicle excise duty expensive car supplement; extending low company car tax rates for 2024-25, as we discussed earlier; and extending the plug-in grant scheme for zero emission cars and ultra-low emission vans, taxis and motorcycles until 2022-22.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 81 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 82

Applicable CO2 emissions figure determined using WLTP values

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch - Hansard

Clause 82 makes changes that ensure that CO2 emissions figures for vehicle excise duty will be based on the world harmonized light-duty vehicles test procedure—WLTP—for all new cars registered from 1 April 2020. Until 1 April 2020, the owners of new cars were liable to pay VED based on CO2 emissions figures provided under the new European driving cycle test procedure, which is otherwise known as the NEDC. That test underestimates real-world driving emissions by up to 40%. In the 2018 Budget, it was announced that from April 2020, VED would be based on WLTP, which closely reflects real-world driving emissions. Consequently, vehicle excise duty liabilities for new cars purchased from April 2020 may change.

In the 2018 Budget, the Government announced a review of the impacts of WLTP on vehicle taxes. In July 2019, the Government announced that as mitigation to help the industry manage the transition to WLTP, company car tax rates would be temporarily reduced, and that the Government would publish a call for evidence on vehicle excise duty. Draft legislation for the Finance Bill was published on L day 2019 to switch on WLTP from April 2020 and to implement the new CCT rates.

Clause 82 confirms that CO2 emissions figures for vehicle excise duty will be based on WLTP for all new cars registered from 1 April 2020, and that all cars registered before 1 April 2020 will continue to use existing NEDC CO2 values for VED purposes. As WLTP is more representative of real-world driving conditions, this measure ensures that VED is based on a more robust regime for measuring CO2 emissions. It will also allow motorists to make more informed purchasing decisions when considering the CO2 impact of their new car.

Wes Streeting Portrait Wes Streeting - Hansard

I do not think that we need to dwell too long on this, but it is worth exploring a few points that were made during the Government’s consultation and to test some stakeholders’ arguments. Assertions are sometimes made, but it is important to revisit the arguments and see whether they stand up to the scrutiny of evidence. It will be interesting to hear the Treasury’s view on that.

There was a concern that the WLTP charging rates could lead to distortion ahead of April 2020, because consumers might bring forward purchasing decisions to avoid potential tax increases on new cars. Given that April 2020 has passed, it would be interesting to know whether such distortion has actually occurred. What assessment has the Treasury made of that?

On the environmental impact, some respondents stressed that company cars were more environmentally friendly than private cars. The argument goes that it is important to keep people in that market by adjusting company car taxation to reflect the lower impact. What analysis has the Treasury done of that claim? Does the Treasury think that that is a valid argument, or simply an assertion?

Finally, some concern was raised that under WLTP values, there could be an above-average increase in the reported CO2 emissions of cars with smaller engines, whereas cars with higher CO2 emissions would not be affected by the change to the same extent. How much does that argument hold water with the Minister?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 10:58 a.m.

On the question of why we are treating cars registered before 6 April 2020 differently and whether that would create a distortion, the WLTP testing standards were introduced in 2017 and EU legislation required manufacturers to record the CO2 emissions for both regimes. We have not sought to change the tax treatment of existing cars; we aim to encourage people who purchase new cars to choose low-CO2-emitting models.

On the analysis that the hon. Gentleman asks for, it is probably too soon to tell. The impact is linear, and we published some findings in July 2019 when we set rates. I can have that information provided to him, and I can write to him on that point. I do not have the full answers for the analyses that he is asking for.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 82 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 83

Electric vehicles: extension of exemption

Break in Debate

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 11:01 a.m.

Clause 83 makes changes to exempt all zero-emission cars from the vehicle excise duty supplement that applies to cars with a list price exceeding £40,000 from 1 April 2020. The background is that the Government use vehicle taxes, including vehicle excise duty, to encourage the take-up of cars with low carbon dioxide emissions to help to meet our legally binding climate change targets. Vehicle excise duty incentives help to reduce the cost of zero-emission cars, which is one of the most significant barriers to uptake. From April 2017, on first registration, zero-emission cars paid no vehicle excise duty, while the most polluting cars paid more than £2,000. In subsequent years, while most cars move to a standard rate—£150 in 2020-21—electric vehicles attract a zero rate. Previously, however, all vehicles with a list price exceeding £40,000, including electric vehicles, paid a vehicle excise duty supplement of £325 in 2020-21 from years two to six following registration.

Under the changes made by clause 83, from 1 April 2020, all zero-emission light passenger vehicles registered from 1 April 2017 until 31 March 2025 will be exempt from the vehicle excise duty expensive car supplement. That will reduce vehicle excise duty liability for almost a third of zero-emission cars by an estimated £1,625. This demonstrates that the Government will continue to incentivise the uptake of zero-emission cars through the 2020s. The measure will incentivise uptake by reducing tax liabilities and aid the Government in achieving net zero. I therefore commend the clause to the Committee.

Wes Streeting Portrait Wes Streeting - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 11:02 a.m.

Clause 83 is obviously a welcome measure; we have heard from industry representatives that removing the VED surcharge for electric vehicles will encourage uptake. The RAC’s head of policy, Nicholas Lyes, states:

“Our research suggests that cost is one of the biggest barriers for drivers who want to switch to an electric vehicle and the steps taken”

by the Government

“will provide clarity and certainty for both consumers and manufacturers.”

I wonder whether the Government are looking at what more they can do to reduce the cost burden for people switching to electric vehicles. People make choices all the time about the purchase of new vehicles, and price sensitivity is one of the biggest aspects of that. If someone uses their car every day for regular journeys—to commute to and from work, for example—and has access to charging points at home, at work or in the vicinity, switching to an electric vehicle will make a real difference. It can be cost-effective as well as an environmentally friendly choice, particularly in the light of the clause.

However, for lots of people who do not commute regularly but have a family car for use at weekends and perhaps over the summer holidays, the financial choice is not always as straightforward. Although the environmental factors may be compelling and people might want to switch to an electric vehicle, the financial barrier is still too high. I wonder what more the Government can do, through industry support or other means, to further incentivise the switch to electric vehicles, as it would make a real difference.

On infrastructure, it is important that more is done to ensure that electric vehicle charging points are readily available for use—that is really an issue for the Department for Transport and local authorities, but at some point they will come knocking at the Treasury’s door. The Minister is smiling; I am sure that she is very familiar with that experience. I wonder how favourably she is looking on those arguments, because although progress is being made to expand electric charging points—the Mayor of London cares strongly about the issue, and I discussed it recently with the Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham—much more progress can still be made in all parts of the country, so Treasury support would be very welcome.

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 11:06 a.m.

The hon. Gentleman makes a point that we hear again and again about the cost of low emission vehicles. These changes are part of a wider package of tax and spend incentives—I have mentioned company car tax rates and the plug-in car grant.

On the question of what more we can do, the best mechanism is the call for evidence that the Government published at the Budget, which includes how vehicle excise duty can further incentivise the uptake of zero-emission cars. That is probably the best way for the industry and Parliament to suggest what more we can do to make low emission vehicles more affordable.

The hon. Gentleman is right that we get asked a lot about infrastructure and what more we can do to provide charge points. We understand that access to high-quality, convenient charging infrastructure is critical if drivers are to make the switch to electric vehicles confidently. That was why, at the Budget, we announced £500 million over the next five years to support the roll-out of a fast charging network for electric vehicles, ensuring that drivers will never be more than 30 miles from a rapid charging station.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 83 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 84

Motor caravans

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 11:08 a.m.

Clause 84 reduces vehicle excise duty liability for new motorhomes to support British motorhome manufacturers and UK holidaymakers. From 12 March 2020, most new motorhomes pay a flat rate of VED at £270 annually. To ensure that, in the future, motorhome vehicle excise duty liabilities reflect environmental impact and to incentivise the development and uptake of lower emission motorhomes, from 1 April 2021, motorhome VED liabilities will be aligned with graduated van vehicle excise duty.

From September 2019, EU regulatory changes have required motorhomes to record carbon dioxide emissions on the vehicle type approval document. Previously, the majority of motorhomes attracted a flat rate of £265, but from September 2019, due to their high emissions, new motorhomes saw a significant increase in their first-year vehicle excise duty liabilities. Motorhome dealerships and the main industry body, the National Caravan Council, expressed concern about the changes. The sector argued that, as motorhomes are generally derived from vans, their VED liability should be aligned with vans, rather than passenger vehicles.

The changes made by clause 84 mean that, from 12 March 2020, new motorhomes are more closely aligned with vans for VED purposes. Manufacturers are no longer required to provide a CO2 emissions figure when they register the vehicle with the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency. As a result, all new motorhomes will move to a flat rate of vehicle excise duty. Most new motorhome vehicles will be included in the private light goods vehicle tax class, with the minority that weigh more than 3,500 kg included in the private heavy goods class. As a result, new motorhomes’ first-year VED liabilities will be reduced by up to £1,905. The change will affect owners of motorhomes first registered from 12 March 2020. There are typically about 15,000 motorhomes registered in the UK annually.

The change will reduce new motorhome vehicle excise duty liabilities, and better align them with vans, rather than passenger vehicles. It will support British motorhome manufacturers and holidaymakers using motorhomes throughout the UK. I therefore commend the clause to the Committee.

Wes Streeting Portrait Wes Streeting - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 11:08 a.m.

This debate is particularly timely, given last night’s Adjournment debate, which was led by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Emma Hardy), who told the House that Hull is the capital of caravan manufacturing. Along with my hon. Friends the Members for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) and for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner), she has been a doughty champion of the industry. That industry has been particularly hard hit by covid-19 because it relies so much on the leisure and tourism industry, which is still effectively shut down. Industry bodies and users were looking for this change, so I am happy to indicate that we support the clause.

Break in Debate

Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 12:01 a.m.

I beg to move amendment 12, in clause 85, page 72, line 33, after “supplies” insert “, including human breastmilk”.

This amendment would ensure that vehicles carrying human breastmilk would benefit from the exemption from Vehicle Excise Duty.

I am delighted to continue my personal journey to ensure that breastfeeding is mentioned in every possible place in this House. I am chair of the all-party group on infant feeding and inequalities, so I declare that interest up front.

The measure I seek to add to the Bill would cost the Government very little, if anything at all, but would send a very strong signal that the Government support and recognise breast milk banks across the UK. Sub-paragraph 2(b) of proposed new paragraph 6A to schedule 2 to the Vehicle Excise and Registration Act 1994 refers to

“medicines and other medical supplies”.

I am not quite sure whether that would capture breast milk. I seek clarification from the Minister on that, because I do not think it is clear enough, which was why I tabled the amendment.

Human breast milk banks exist across the UK. Some do not exist quite to the size and scale that we would like, so the amendment would help to encourage them that there is Government support for what they are doing. I mention the Human Milk Foundation, the Northwest Human Milk Bank, Hearts Milk Bank and Milk Bank Scotland, which is based in Glasgow and the one that I know best. Having spoken to Debbie Barnett, its donor milk bank co-ordinator, I know that Milk Bank Scotland does not have its own vehicles at the moment, but relies on the Glasgow Children’s Hospital Charity volunteers, who transport the milk, after picking it up from donors, and take it out to those who need it. Having its own vehicles would be something for a future point, but the amendment would certainly support the milk bank, and others across the UK, in doing that.

Like blood, breast milk has to be properly processed, and there are procedures in place for doing so. Like blood, it needs special carriage to take it from donors to the milk banks for processing, and back out again. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guideline 93 on donor breast milk banks says that, when transporting milk to the milk bank, critical conditions for transport include

“temperature and time limit, to ensure that donor milk remains frozen during transport.”

The guideline also states that donor milk should be transported

“in secure, tamper-evident containers and packaging”

and that a range of procedures are in place for achieving that.

In chapter 33 of its guide to the quality and safety of tissues and cells for human application, on the distribution of and transport conditions for human milk, the European directorate for the quality of medicines states:

“During transport, milk should remain frozen and dry ice may be used for this purpose.

The use of validated, easily cleaned, insulated transport containers is recommended.

The transport procedure should be validated, and the temperature of the transport container monitored during transportation.”

All those measures are relatively similar to how blood and other blood products are transported around the UK, and would fit quite well with the medical courier vehicles exemption set out in the Bill. Many of these organisations are charities, and they would very much appreciate support in moving milk around the country.

I appeal to the Government to accept the amendment, which is uncontentious—and indisputable, really. Doing so would send a good signal that the UK Government support milk banks, the people across the UK who wish to use them, and the science behind them. They are particularly important in supporting premature babies in their earliest days. The World Health Organisation recently indicated the significance of breast milk during coronavirus, and that women should be supported whenever possible to feed their babies with human breast milk. Covid-19 is not present in breast milk, and the milk is therefore of huge benefit in supporting babies in their earliest days. I encourage Ministers to take on the amendment, if they can take on anything at all, and to show support for milk banks across the UK.

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch - Hansard

Amendment 12 would extend the exemption so that it applied to people carrying human breast milk. I do not think that any of us would disagree with that, but clause 85 already covers the transportation of human breast milk. The purpose-built vehicles used by medical courier charities, which are exempted from VED by the measure, transport not just blood, but a wide range of medical products, including X-rays, MRI scans, plasma and human breast milk.

The inclusion of the amendment in the Bill would make things more difficult. Its wording is quite vague, it does not clearly define the vehicles that it is trying to capture, and it would create the risk of abuse. We believe that the matter is already covered by clause 85. Although the Government fully support the sentiment of the amendment, as breast milk is already captured under the clause, I ask the Committee to reject the it.

Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss - Hansard

I would like to press the amendment to a vote, to add to the clarity of the clause.

Amendment 12 negatived.

Clause 85 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(David Rutley.)

Finance Bill (Eighth sitting)

(Committee Debate: 8th sitting: House of Commons)
Kemi Badenoch Excerpts
Tuesday 16th June 2020

(3 months, 1 week ago)

Public Bill Committees
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HM Treasury
Jesse Norman Portrait Jesse Norman - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 2:07 p.m.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his questions. We fully appreciate the degree of concern that has been shown by the industry. As he will be aware, we are under an obligation to abide by EU judgments while we remain under the withdrawal agreement. The proposal underlines how seriously we take legal obligations that have been incurred in the EU withdrawal agreement, and that includes implementing the result of the European Court of Justice judgment.

It should be made clear that, during the transition period, if the Commission were not convinced that necessary steps had been taken to implement the judgement, it could, in principle, refer the case back to the European Court and ask it to levy fines for non-compliance. Those fines can be pretty substantial—up to €792,000 a day plus a potential one-off fine of at least €10 million—so we are very focused on communicating the seriousness of our intent in passing this enabling legislation. We do not believe that paying fines to the EU, especially as we have now left the EU, would be an effective or good use of taxpayers’ money, not least when we are making broader changes to reduce the entitlement to use red diesel more widely.

It is worth pointing out one other thing: we have not set an implementation date. The reason is that we recognise that it is important for Government to continue to work with users of private pleasure craft and with fuel suppliers to understand how they can implement the changes, precisely to make sure that those changes are as little onerous and as easy to enact as they can be. It is only once we have seen that consultation, gone through that process, reflected further on it and had a chance to consider how the legislation could be framed that we will be able to return to this issue.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 86 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 10 agreed to.

Clause 87

Rates of air passenger duty from 1 April 2021

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Kemi Badenoch Portrait The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Kemi Badenoch) - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 2:09 p.m.

Clause 87 makes changes to ensure that the long-haul rates of air passenger duty for the tax year 2021-22 increase in line with the retail price index. The change will make sure that the aviation sector continues to play its part in contributing towards funding our vital public services.

Aviation plays a crucial role in keeping Britain open for business, and the UK Government are keen to support its long-term success. Indeed, the UK has one of the highest direct connectivity scores in Europe, according to the latest Airports Council International Europe report. The Government appreciate the difficulties that the airline industry currently faces as a result of coronavirus. That is why the Chancellor provided a comprehensive package for all businesses affected by the virus on 20 March. However, as air passenger duty is paid on a per passenger basis, the recent decline in passenger demand will have resulted in a reduction in air passenger duty liabilities for airlines. As the industry returns to health, it is right that the revenue raised from air passenger duty should continue to remain in line.

The clause increases the long-haul reduced rate for economy class nominally by only £2 and the standard rate for all classes above economy by £4—a real-terms freeze. The rounding of air passenger duty raised to the nearest £1 means that short-haul rates will remain frozen in nominal terms for the eighth year in a row, which benefits about 80% of all airline passengers. More broadly, the Government will consult on aviation tax reform. As part of the consultation, we will consider the case for changing the air passenger duty treatment of domestic flights, such as reintroducing the return leg exemption, and for increasing the number of international distance bands.

The changes made by the clause will increase the long-haul APD rates for the tax year 2021-22 by the RPI. Air passenger duty is a fair and efficient tax, where the amount paid corresponds to the distance and class of travel of the passenger and is due only when airlines are flying passengers. The changes ensure that the aviation sector will continue to play its part in contributing towards funding our vital public services. I therefore commend the clause to the Committee.

Wes Streeting Portrait Wes Streeting - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 2:13 p.m.

The industry has stated that the proposed changes do not support it and its net zero plans. The news that the airline industry does not like air passenger duty will come as a surprise to no one. As we are debating air passenger duty under clause 87, and as Treasury Ministers declined to come to the House in response to an urgent question from the Chair of the Transport Committee, this is an opportunity for me to raise concerns directly with Treasury Ministers about support for the airline industry in the light of the challenges it faces because of covid-19.

The Minister said that the airline industry has benefited from Government support. In so far as any industry and employer has benefited from the general schemes made available—the job retention scheme, the self-employment income support scheme, the various business grants and loans that are available—that is true. However, back in March, the Chancellor referred to specific support for the aviation industry. It is now June and that support has not yet materialised. In fact, we do not even have any outline of what that support could entail or whether it will materialise at all.

Let us bear in mind that the industry contributes £22 billion a year to the British economy. It supports 230,000 jobs in aviation and throughout the manufacturing supply chain. If we take into account the broader sweep of jobs based around the supply chain, airports and travel, we are probably looking at something closer to 500,000 jobs.

Ministers, whether in the Treasury or the Department for Transport, ought to be embarrassed by the fact that, only a matter of weeks ago, a leading figure in the airline industry told the Transport Committee that the Government have been “asleep at the wheel”. That is not the way that the Treasury should approach a major industry. Of course, the airline industry has a lot to change in order to meet our country’s net zero ambitions, but I am sure we would all agree that we would prefer it if the aviation industry got to that point through research, innovation, sensible application of technology, change of consumer behaviour and a just transition to support the workforce as the industry changes, rather than because airlines go bust and people lose their jobs.

Break in Debate

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 2:19 p.m.

On the issue of a specific support package for the industry, the hon. Member for Ilford North has mentioned the range of measures that we have put in place, and we know that the DFT, the Transport Secretary and the aviation Minister are in close contact with the aviation sector. What the hon. Gentleman does not know is that Treasury Ministers, including myself, have also received lots of representations from the industry—it is not an issue that we are ignoring—but we need to be careful about how we make interventions.

The aviation sector is important to the UK economy. When those companies, as with any other companies that make a material contribution to the economy, find themselves in trouble as a result of coronavirus and have exhausted the measures already available to them, the Transport Secretary and Chancellor are listening to understand the issues, but any intervention needs to represent value for money for the taxpayer.

As we saw in the urgent question earlier today, there are so many people we need to help. We need to be careful about how we spend taxpayers’ money and where it should be directed. At this time, the Chancellor has not made that decision, but we will continue to work closely with the sector, and we are willing to consider the situation of individual firms, rather than working a sector-wide basis, once all the other Government schemes and commercial options have been explored and exhausted. That includes—I am sure this is something Opposition Members agree with—raising capital from existing investors and approaching other investors first.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 87 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 88

Amounts of gross gaming yield charged to gaming duty

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 2:19 p.m.

Clause 88 increases the thresholds for the gross gaming yield bands for gaming duty in line with inflation. This is a very small change, which is assumed by public finances.

Gaming duty is a banded tax paid by casinos in the UK, with marginal tax rates varying between 15% and 50%. Public finances assume that the bands are uprated with inflation each year to prevent fiscal drag. Without an annual uprating, over time, casinos would pay gaming duty at higher rates, so the change made by clause 88 uprates the bands of gaming duty in line with inflation. That is expected by the industry and assumed in public finances. Rates of gaming duty will remain unchanged. The change will take effect for accounting periods starting on or after 1 April 2020. I therefore commend the clause to the Committee.

Wes Streeting Portrait Wes Streeting - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 2:20 p.m.

We have heard representations from the chief executive of the Betting and Gaming Council, Michael Dugher, who will be known to many hon. Members across the House. The council is calling for reform of business rates and casino taxation. In the light of its representation, which, unsurprisingly, makes the industry case, and reflecting on some of our earlier conversations about alcohol duties, tobacco and smoking, what plans does the Treasury have, if any, to look at reform of gambling taxation generally and at the specific reforms Mr Dugher is calling for of business rates and casino taxation?

We have also heard strong representations from hon. Members across the House, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) and the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith), about their work to highlight the impact that gambling has on people’s lives. Irresponsible gambling blights people’s lives. In the light of our conversation this morning about the positive role that Treasury decisions can play in promoting good public health outcomes, is the Treasury minded to look at those issues in the round as part of a wider review of the gaming duty and gambling taxation more generally?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 2:22 p.m.

The answer is to look at what the duty is designed to do. It is a change to gambling taxation; it is not related to the regulation of gambling activity, which, as we know, is the remit of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

The Government continue to monitor the effectiveness of existing gambling controls. As the December 2019 election manifesto set out, we intend to review the Gambling Act 2005. We will always consider the potential impact of tax changes at the same time.

We should remember that freezing the duty bands would have a small impact on public finances, while pushing smaller, generally regional, casinos into higher duty bands. The casino industry paid about £220 million in duty in the last financial year. The Government believe that the sector already makes a fair contribution to the public finances. I do not believe it is the small regional casinos that we would be looking to affect in terms of problem gambling.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 88 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 89

Rates of climate change levy until 1 April 2021

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Break in Debate

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 2:24 p.m.

Clauses 89 and 90 ensure that the climate change levy main and reduced rates are updated for the years 2020-21 and 2021-22 to reflect the rates announced at Budget 2018. The climate change levy came into effect in April 2001. It is a UK-wide tax on the non-domestic use of energy from gas, electricity, liquefied petroleum gas and solid fuels. It promotes the efficient use of energy to help to meet the UK’s international and domestic targets for cutting emissions of greenhouse gases. Energy-intensive businesses that participate in the climate change agreements scheme run by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy qualify for reduced rates in return for meeting energy efficiency or carbon reduction targets.

Budget 2016 announced that electricity and gas rates would be equalised by 2025, because electricity is becoming a much cleaner source of energy than gas as we reduce our reliance on coal and use more renewable resources instead. These changes give effect to rate changes announced in 2018 and reaffirm the commitment to equalise the main rates for gas and electricity. The reduced rates will be subject to increases in line with inflation, as in previous years. In order to ensure better consistency in the tax treatment of portable fuels and the off-gas grid market, it was announced in the 2017 Budget that the climate change levy rate for liquefied petroleum gas would be frozen at the 2019-20 level in the years 2020-21 and 2021-22. For that reason, the reduced rate for liquefied petroleum gas that applies to CCA participants will remain set at 23% for the years 2020-21 and 2021-22.

Clauses 89 and 90 will update the climate change levy’s main and reduced rates for 2020-21 and 2021-22, as announced in the 2018 Budget, to reflect that electricity is now a cleaner energy source than gas. The electricity main rate will be lowered, whereas the gas main rate will increase so that it reaches 60% of the electricity rate in 2021-22. The rates were announced over two years ago, to give businesses plenty of notice to prepare for the rate changes. To limit the impact on the CCA scheme, participants will see their climate change levy liability increase by retail price index inflation only. That protects the competitiveness of over 9,000 facilities in energy-intensive industries across 50 sectors. I therefore commend the clause to the Committee.

Wes Streeting Portrait Wes Streeting - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 2:26 p.m.

The Chancellor suggested that pollution taxes would increase as a result of his Budget, but Jayne Harrold, PwC’s UK environmental tax leader, said that under the 2020 Budget:

“There was not really an increase in pollution taxes as the Chancellor suggested with the climate change levy (CCL) changes announced. In fact, freezing CCL rates on electricity to level up the gas rate faster based on carbon emissions will reduce the amount of pollution tax applied. Extending climate change agreements for two years is equally minor good news for energy intensive businesses who get significant CCL reliefs.”

Can the Minister give us a sense of what more the Treasury will do to ensure that taxes from polluting behaviour increase?

I also want to probe on the green gas levy. The 2020 Budget promised the introduction of a green gas levy to help fund the use of greener fuels, to work in conjunction with the rise in the climate change levy. When and how do the Government plan to introduce the levy?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch - Hansard

I missed the hon. Member’s last question, but I can write to him on this issue, if he is happy with that. I go back to the question whether we are doing enough to achieve net zero. The answer is that we are going as far as we can, but we must also ensure that we protect the competitiveness of businesses throughout the UK. As announced in 2016, the changes to the climate change levy rates will see electricity and gas main rates equalised. That is being done incrementally—not because we do not want to go far enough, but in order to protect the tax liability of businesses. The Treasury review on the cost of transitioning to net zero will consider the role of tax in the transition. Does that answer the question?

Wes Streeting Portrait Wes Streeting - Hansard

My question was specifically about the changes that the Government plan to make in relation to the green gas levy, which had been announced in the Budget. When and how do the Government plan to introduce the green gas levy?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch - Hansard

I cannot give the hon. Member an answer to that, but I will definitely write to him. I think officials will be able to brief him on the green gas levy. I cannot talk about it in the context of the climate change levy, which is what we are discussing, but I take his point. It is a good question. It is a Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy competency, which is why I do not have an answer from a Treasury perspective, but I can speak to my counterparts in that Department and get back to him.

Wes Streeting Portrait Wes Streeting - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 2:29 p.m.

Thank you.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 89 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 90 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 91

Rates of landfill tax

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 2:32 p.m.

The clause increases both the standard and lower rates of landfill tax in line with inflation from 1 April 2020, as announced at Budget 2018.

Landfill tax has been immensely successful in reducing the amount of waste sent to landfill. Landfill tax provides a disincentive to use landfill and has made it the most expensive waste treatment method in terms of average gate fees. The success of the tax has contributed to a 70% decrease in waste sent to landfill since 2000. Household recycling has increased to 45%, from 18%, over the same period. The benefits of this reduction are twofold: first, there are economic benefits as valuable resources are used better, rather than being simply tipped into a hole in the ground, and secondly, there are environmental benefits, not only from the increased efficiency in the use of our precious resources, but through a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from decomposing waste.

When waste is diverted from landfill we promote more sustainable waste treatment practice, such as recycling. The Government want to move towards a more circular economy and we are working together with business, industry, civil society and the public to achieve that aim. Landfill tax is one of the Government’s primary levers in achieving this.

When disposed at a landfill site, each tonne of standard-rated material is currently taxed at £91.35 and lower-rate material draws a tax of £2.90 per tonne. These changes will see rates per tonne increase to £94.15 and £3 respectively from 1 April 2020. By increasing rates in line with RPI we maintain the crucial incentive for the industry to use alternative waste treatment methods and continue the move towards a more circular economy. The increase in landfill tax will affect businesses and local authorities that send waste to landfill, but by continuing the positive trend of managing waste more sustainably businesses and local authorities will be able to reduce their landfill tax liabilities.

In conclusion, clause 91 increases the two rates of landfill tax in line with inflation from 1 April 2020, as announced in the autumn Budget in 2018. The clause maintains the incentives in the landfill tax for businesses and local authorities to divert waste treatment away from landfill and to continue to invest in sustainable methods of waste disposal, helping the Government meet their environmental objectives. I therefore commend the clause to the Committee.

Wes Streeting Portrait Wes Streeting - Hansard

Aside from paying tribute to my own local authority, the London Borough of Redbridge, and other local authorities for the efforts they have made to reduce the amount of waste going into landfill, there is only so much that can be said about an inflationary increase in landfill tax. I am happy for us to support the clause.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 91 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 92

Carbon emissions tax

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Break in Debate

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 2:36 p.m.

At Budget 2020 the Government announced that they would make the necessary legislative changes to the carbon emissions tax in Finance Bill 2020 to ensure that this policy remained a viable option to maintain carbon pricing in the UK after the transition period, in the event that a trading system proves undesirable. If the Government decide to use the tax as their carbon pricing policy after the transition period, the tax would be commenced, by secondary legislation laid in late 2020, from 1 January 2021.

The clause and schedule strengthen the effectiveness of the carbon emissions tax by ensuring that penalties can be issued for non-compliance and late payment and the legislation is updated to reflect developments since the tax was established in the Finance Act 2019. In line with the withdrawal agreement, the UK will remain in the EU emissions trading system, known as the EU ETS, until the end of the transition period on 31 December 2020. The UK will continue to have legally binding carbon reduction targets after leaving the EU.

As set out in the UK’s approach to the negotiation, the UK would be open to considering a link between any future UK emissions trading system and the EU ETS, if it suited both the UK’s and the EU’s interests. If a linked trading system between the UK and the EU is not agreed, the UK would introduce an alternative carbon pricing policy. The Government are therefore preparing both a UK standalone emissions trading system and a carbon emissions tax.

Budget 2020 announced that legislation would be included in this Finance Bill to provide a charging power to establish a UK ETS linked to the EU ETS or a standalone UK ETS, and update the existing legislation relating to carbon emissions tax. This schedule amends the Finance Act 2019 to ensure that the tax will be ready to be operational from the end of the transition period, if needed. The clause and schedule deal with the latter.

Clause 92 introduces schedule 11, which makes amendments to part 3 of the Finance Act 2019, which established the carbon emissions tax. Schedule 11 will amend the Finance Act 2019 so that the carbon emissions tax is ready to commence from 1 January 2021 if needed.

I will briefly highlight the most significant changes in what is a fairly technical schedule. Paragraphs 9 and 10 add provisions to the tax for a penalty for failure to make payments of tax to HMRC on time. That would be achieved by adopting the existing provisions on late payment penalties in schedule 56 to the Finance Act 2009. The penalty would be commenced by appointed day regulations if the tax were introduced.

Similarly, paragraph 4 allows for provisions to be made for the imposition of civil penalties for failure to comply with a requirement of the regulations; the review of, and a right of appeal against, a specified decision relating to the tax; and the modification of domestic and EU regulations relating to the monitoring and regulation of emissions.

Paragraph 8 amends the commencement and transitional provisions to ensure that the regulations needed to operate the tax may be made before the tax has commenced. It also removes provisions that were needed when we were planning to commence the tax partway through an emissions reporting period. Those are no longer needed, as we would now start the tax on 1 January, the first day of an emissions reporting period.

Paragraph 3 allows the Treasury, by regulations, to exclude regulated installations of a specified description from the charge to tax. That enables the Government, for example, to exclude Northern Ireland power generators from the tax, were they to continue to participate in the EU ETS as provided for in the Northern Ireland protocol. Paragraph 6 ensures that regulators will be able to recover costs incurred in doing work connected with carbon emissions tax, even if that work is done before regulations are made.

In conclusion, the clause and schedule ensure that the carbon emissions tax is ready to commence from 1 January 2021 if needed. It would provide a stable carbon price and help the UK to meet its carbon reduction commitments. I therefore commend the clause and schedule to the Committee.

Wes Streeting Portrait Wes Streeting - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 2:37 p.m.

The clause and schedule that we are discussing make perfect sense in light of the impact of our exiting the European Union. I just have a few questions for the Minister.

This clause gives the Government the power to introduce a UK emissions trading scheme or carbon tax via a statutory instrument. As we have already heard from the Minister, and as we have heard from public statements on both sides of the channel this week, we will leave the EU emissions trading scheme on December 31 2020, when we leave the transition period.

I think the Minister alluded to the fact that so many of the questions that stakeholders have remain unanswered. I accept that this is just an enabling clause in anticipation of the further detail, and I appreciate that some of these questions may relate to responsibilities in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, so I will accept it if she sends me in that direction, but does she know when the Government plan to respond to chapters 1 to 3 of the consultation on the future of UK carbon pricing? Can she give assurances that there will be time to scrutinise Government proposals and implement a new scheme by the end of the year, bearing in mind that the proposals will have an impact on a wide range of organisations?

Touching on a theme I raised this morning about support for businesses as they undertake a transition to new frameworks, how do the Government intend to support UK companies during the transition, bearing in mind that, just as we are feeling the impact on Government business of disruption caused by the pandemic, many businesses are feeling exactly the same disruption? Is it realistic or desirable for companies across the country to be adapting to a new scheme that is not yet known and that may need to take force by the end of this year?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 2:39 p.m.

We published a consultation response on 1 June, and the carbon emissions tax consultation is due to be published shortly. I will say to the hon. Gentleman, “Watch this space.”

In terms of the impact on businesses, the carbon emissions tax would have an impact on around 1,000 installations that currently participate in the EU emissions trading system, most of which are operated by large businesses. Businesses whose emissions exceeded their allowance would need to familiarise themselves with the tax and pay a bill once a year, in lieu of surrendering trading allowances under the EU emissions trading system. It must be said, however, that the administrative burdens of complying with this tax are not expected to be more than what they would have been under the EU emissions trading system.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 92 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 11 agreed to.

Clause 93

Charge for allocating allowances under emissions reduction trading scheme

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 2:41 p.m.

The clause provides the power to auction carbon emissions allowances, to establish a UK emissions trading system, which could be linked to the EU’s or operate independently. Alongside clause 92, to update the carbon emissions tax, this clause ensures that a strong carbon price remains in all scenarios, while supporting the ongoing negotiations.

The UK’s membership of the EU emissions trading system will end following the transition period. As mentioned in the previous clause, the EU ETS covers around a third of UK emissions, including the power sector, heavy industry and aviation. It has been an important tool, alongside other taxes and regulations, in helping to reduce emissions.

Following the UK’s exit from the EU, we have choices about how best to put a price on carbon, tailoring our approach to the UK economy. Carbon pricing will continue to play an important role to help meet the UK’s legally binding carbon budgets and net zero. The Government are preparing an independent UK emissions trading scheme, which could be linked to the EU ETS. As set out in the UK’s approach to negotiations, we are open to considering a link if it suited both sides’ interests.

Clause 93 is essential to the establishment of a UK ETS, as it provides the power for Government to auction emissions allowances and intervene in the market to deal with any price volatility. As I mentioned earlier, the Government are also preparing a carbon emissions tax and a possible alternative in clause 92. Introducing legislation to support potential negotiated options, as well as legislating for alternative approaches to carbon pricing after the transition period, will provide certainty that we maintain an effective carbon price in all scenarios, continuing to drive reductions in emissions on our journey to net zero.

The changes made by clause 93 introduce a charging power. This means that through regulations, emissions allowances can be auctioned by the Government in any future UK ETS, ensuring that participants pay a price for their pollution. The clause will also enable regulations to be made for additional market stability mechanisms, to operate in an independent UK emissions trading scheme. That will ensure a smooth transition for businesses. First, a price rule, known as the auction reserve price, will maintain a carbon signal when allowance prices are low. Secondly, a cost containment mechanism will respond to in-year price fights, protecting the competitiveness of UK business when allowance prices are high. Further detail on these measures has been set out in the Government’s recent response to our consultation on the future of UK carbon pricing.

This clause is a prudent and sensible one to legislate for. It will pave the way for an emissions trading scheme, which could be linked to the EU ETS, if that is in our interests. It also ensures that a stand-alone emissions trading scheme could be implemented as an alternative policy, should a link not be agreed. Alongside that, legislation will be updated related to the carbon emissions tax, so we are keeping all options on the table for maintaining a carbon price signal from 1 January 2021.

Wes Streeting Portrait Wes Streeting - Hansard

The Minister asked us to watch this space. We will certainly do that and wait to see how discussions progress. We look forward to seeing the details of future arrangements in the not-too-distant future.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 93 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 94

International trade disputes

Public Health England Review: Covid-19 Disparities

Kemi Badenoch Excerpts
Thursday 4th June 2020

(3 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
HM Treasury
Gill Furniss Portrait Gill Furniss (Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough) (Lab) - Hansard
4 Jun 2020, midnight

(Urgent Question): To ask the Minister for Women and Equalities if she will make a statement on the Public Health England review of disparities in risks and outcomes related to the covid-19 outbreak.

Kemi Badenoch Portrait The Minister for Equalities (Kemi Badenoch) - Hansard
4 Jun 2020, midnight

With your permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement.

As a black woman and the Equalities Minister, it would be odd if I did not comment on the recent events in the US and protests in London yesterday. Like all right-minded people, regardless of their race, I was profoundly disturbed by the brutal murder of George Floyd at the hands of the police. During these moments of heightened racial tension, we must not pander to anyone who seeks to inflame those tensions. Instead, we must work together to improve the lives of people from black and minority ethnic communities. It is in that spirit that we approach the assessment of the impact of covid-19 on ethnic minorities. If we want to resolve the disparities identified in the PHE report, it is critical that we accurately understand the causes, based on empirical analysis of the facts and not preconceived positions.

On Tuesday, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care confirmed to the House that Public Health England has now completed its review of disparities in the risks and outcomes of covid-19. The review confirms that covid-19 has replicated, and in some cases increased, existing health inequalities related to risk factors including age, gender, ethnicity and geography, with higher diagnosis rates in deprived, densely populated urban areas. The review also confirmed that being black or from a minority ethnic background is a risk factor. That racial disparity has been shown to hold even after accounting for the effect of age, deprivation, region and sex.

I thank Public Health England for undertaking this important work so quickly. I know that its findings will be a cause for concern across the House, as they are for individuals and families across the country. The Government share that concern, which is why they are now reviewing the impact and effectiveness of their actions to lessen disparities in infection and death rates of covid-19, and to determine what further measures are necessary.

It is also clear that more needs to be done to understand the key drivers of those disparities and the relationships between different risk factors. The Government will commission further data research and analytical work by the Equalities Hub to clarify the reasons for the gaps in evidence highlighted by the report. Taking action without taking the necessary time and effort to understand the root causes of those disparities only risks worsening the situation. That is why I am taking this work forward with the Race Disparity Unit in the Cabinet Office, and the Department of Health and Social Care, and I will keep the House updated.

Gill Furniss Portrait Gill Furniss - Hansard

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question. On 2 June, Public Health England published its long-awaited review of disparities in the risks and outcomes of covid-19 for BAME communities. The review confirms what we already know: racial and health inequalities amplify the risk of covid-19. It found that those from BAME backgrounds were more than twice as likely to die from covid-19 than white people, and that BAME healthcare workers are at particular risk of infection. These lives matter, and it is time for the Government to take action on the devastating impact that this virus has had on BAME communities.

Public Health England’s review fails to make a single recommendation on how to reduce those inequalities, protect workers on the front line, or save lives. That is despite the fact that its terms of reference include to “suggest recommendations” for further action. Will the Minister urgently explain why the review failed to do that? The Government have said that the Race Disparity Unit will publish recommendations on the findings from the review. When will those recommendations be published, alongside a plan for their implementation?

More than 1,000 individuals and organisations supplied evidence to the review. Many suggested that discrimination and racism increase the risk of covid-19 for BAME communities. Will the Minister explain why those views were not included in the review? Does she accept that structural racism has impacted the outcomes of covid-19? Does she agree that it is now time to address underlying socioeconomic inequalities facing BAME communities, and will she confirm that the Government will take action to do so? BAME workers on the frontline of this crisis are anxious for their lives. Will the Minister listen to Labour’s demands to call on all employers to risk assess their BAME workforce? Coronavirus thrives on inequality, and there is no more important time to tackle racial injustices in our society and save lives during this crisis. It is now up to the Government to take action and show their commitment that black lives matter.

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch - Hansard

It is imperative that we understand the key drivers of those disparities, the relationships between different risk factors, and what we can do to close the gap. That way, we will ensure that we do not take action that is not warranted by the evidence. The hon. Lady is right: Public Health England did not make recommendations, because it was not able to do so. Some of the data needed is not routinely collected, but acquiring it would be extremely beneficial. As I said earlier, I will be taking forward work to fill the gaps in our understanding, and review existing policies or develop new ones where needed. It is important to remind ourselves that this review was conducted in a short period, and it sets out firm conclusions. As the author of the report said on Tuesday night, there is a great deal of background and detailed information that we think will be helpful. It is not easy to go directly from analysis to making recommendations, and we must widely disseminate and discuss the report before deciding what needs to be done.

Caroline Nokes Portrait Caroline Nokes (Romsey and Southampton North) (Con) - Hansard

The Race Disparity Unit is now in the Cabinet Office and at the heart of Government. My hon. Friend is right to say that it needs all the available data to make the correct recommendations. Will she reassure me, from the heart of Government, that this will not just be a matter for the Equalities Office or for the Department of Health and Social Care, but that it will include the Departments for Work and Pensions, for Transport and for Education? In all those areas we might expect to see real commitment to action that will make lives better for our BAME communities.

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch - Hansard

My right hon. Friend is right, and I thank her for that question. Equalities are not something that happens in the Equalities Office; equalities happen across Whitehall. Every Department has responsibility to ensure that it makes the right policies for all the people who are impacted by the activities that are carried out, and I will continue to work with them on that.

Joanna Cherry Portrait Joanna Cherry (Edinburgh South West) (SNP) - Hansard

I wish to reassure Scotland’s BAME communities that the SNP takes this issue very seriously. On 20 May, the Scottish Government published Public Health Scotland’s preliminary analysis, which suggested that the proportion of BAME patients among those seriously ill with covid is no higher than the proportion in the Scottish population generally. However, the Scottish Government are treating those findings with caution, given the findings in England and Wales. Further work is under way to deepen understanding of the risk factors and improve analysis.

It was good to hear the Prime Minister agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) yesterday that black lives matter. However, actions speak louder than words and some Government policies impact more strongly on BAME communities. What action will the UK Government take to review their no recourse to public funds policies, given that the Prime Minister revealed that he was unaware that thousands of people are locked out of available support due to those rules? In addition, why will the UK Government not lower the earnings threshold for statutory sick pay, which is forcing people in BAME communities out to work when it is not safe for them to be working?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch - Hansard

On Public Health Scotland having different results from Public Health England, we are finding this in a range of reports and it is one reason why we are not rushing to recommendations. It is important to note that the PHE review did not take into account other factors such as comorbidities. On no recourse to public funds, we have taken extensive action to support those with recourse to public funds. The range of such actions includes: protections for renters from evictions; mortgage holidays for those who need them; support for those who are vulnerable and need assistance with access to medication and shopping; the coronavirus job retention scheme; and the self-employed income support scheme. Those with no recourse to public funds do have access to statutory sick pay, which the hon. and learned Lady mentioned. Furthermore, if an individual has been working in the UK and sufficient national insurance contributions have been made, they may be entitled to claim contributory employment and support allowance. We have also allocated £750 million of funding for charities, which are providing vital support to vulnerable people at this difficult time.

Richard Fuller Portrait Richard Fuller (North East Bedfordshire) (Con) - Hansard

Sensitivity to disproportionate risk is greater when the leadership of institutions includes representation of those most at risk. That is an issue for corporations such as Transport for London and, in particular, Govia Thameslink Railway, given what happened to Ms Mujinga. It is an issue for the NHS, where although there has historically been an over-representation of black and minority ethnic people among employees, they have been under-represented in the leadership of the NHS. In this instance, it is a case for the leadership of PHE, as I believe that not one of either the chief executive or his direct reports is drawn from the BAME communities. Will my hon. Friend look into how the Government can promote diversity in the leadership of our leading institutions?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch - Hansard

I thank my hon. Friend for that question, which makes an important point. We do want to see diversity in leadership across institutions in this country, which is one reason why we asked Professor Kevin Fenton, who is a black surgeon, to lead on this review. This issue is close to my heart, and, as a black woman who is Equalities Minister, I will be looking into it as well. I can definitely take this forward and examine what is happening across our institutions.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op) - Hansard

In 2010, Professor Marmot published his report on how structural inequalities predispose the poorest to the worst health outcomes. We know how race inequality is entwined with that. A decade on, the inequalities have grown. The PHE report has now highlighted the fatal consequences of that. Even today, low-paid workers are exposed to the greatest infection risks, and lockdown easement is reinforcing that. Will the Minister pause the easement plan until a full mitigation plan is in place to address these inequalities?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch - Hansard

It is important to reiterate that any easement plan is being made in conjunction with scientists. The Government have reviewed and explained guidance extensively across all sorts of occupational areas. It is important that employers make risk assessments for their staff so that they are not unduly exposed to the virus.

Marco Longhi Portrait Marco Longhi (Dudley North) (Con) - Hansard

As a former employer, and as a new employer in this place, I am acutely aware of the impact I can have on the welfare of my employees. Will my hon. Friend therefore say how important it is to engage with employers in the work that she does?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch - Hansard

That is a very good point, and I thank my hon. Friend for his question. Engaging employers as well as employees will be essential. Professor Kevin Fenton of PHE has already undertaken extensive stakeholder engagement on this issue, and I intend to assist him in continuing that excellent work. I also intend to ensure that this approach continues to cover other factors such as age, sex, geography and deprivation.

Fleur Anderson (Putney) (Lab) - Hansard

The Spanish flu epidemic led to huge, widescale social reform, and this report points to the need to do the same. Almost three quarters of health and social care staff who have died as a result of covid-19 are from black and ethnic minorities. Why does the review fail to mention the occupational discrimination faced by BME healthcare staff, which has been highlighted by the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Nursing and needs urgent attention?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch - Hansard

Again, it is important to remember that the purpose of the review was to look at specific factors. There are other factors that we will continue to look at. This is not the end of the process; it is the beginning of the process. I am going to take the information from the first stage, and that will be part of the work we will carry out in the programme. It must be said that we are working round the clock to protect everyone on the frontline during this pandemic for as long as it is required, and that will include BAME staff on the frontline.

Helen Hayes Portrait Helen Hayes (Dulwich and West Norwood) (Lab) - Hansard

Belly Mujinga died tragically from coronavirus after being spat at while at work at Victoria station. She was at increased risk as a result of her ethnicity and underlying health conditions. Thousands of BAME frontline workers recognise the risks that Belly faced as the same risks that they continue to be exposed to, and her appalling death must lead to change. There must be justice for Belly Mujinga and her family by way of meaningful action to stop unnecessary BAME frontline deaths now. When will the Government instruct employers to put in place the comprehensive protections that are needed for all BAME staff and other vulnerable workers who need protection to stop them dying now?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch - Hansard

I thank the hon. Lady for raising the case of Belly Mujinga. I am extremely saddened and shocked by what I have read about her death. I understand, contrary to what the hon. Lady says, that British Transport police are not taking further action in Belly Mujinga’s case because senior detectives are confident that the incident at Victoria station did not lead to her contracting covid. Nevertheless, this was an appalling incident, and frontline workers like Ms Mujinga deserve to be treated with respect at work, especially during this challenging time. We know that there are a high number of BAME individuals working in healthcare, social care and transport, and it is vital that we understand more about their experiences during the next piece of work I am taking forward. It is important to reiterate that the Government have already done what the hon. Lady said, which is to ensure that employers know that they must risk-assess their employees before they put them out to work. We will continue to reiterate that message.

Selaine Saxby Portrait Selaine Saxby (North Devon) (Con) - Hansard

The report identified age as the greatest disparity. Can the Minister assure me that she is conscious of the sacrifices that older people are making and that she will do what she can to ensure that older people are treated equally as far as possible?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch - Hansard

Yes. The largest disparity found was by age. People diagnosed who were 80 or older were 70 times more likely to die than those under 40. My hon. Friend is right, and that is something I will be doing.

Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP) - Hansard

As I said to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care earlier this week, it is one thing to say that black lives matter and quite another to force black people and people from BAME backgrounds out to work who have no choice other than to go to work because they have no recourse to public funds. No recourse to public funds is a racist policy. Will she abolish it now?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch - Hansard

I must push back on some of what the hon. Lady said. It is wrong to conflate all black people with recent immigrants and assume, which is what she just said, that we all have to pay a surcharge. That is wrong. I am a black woman who is out to work. My employer—[Interruption.] This House has done everything it can to make sure that I am following the guidelines and that all of us are. It is absolutely wrong to try to conflate lots of different issues and merge them into one, just so that it can get traction in the press. I go back—[Interruption.] I go back to what I said in my original statement. It is not right for us to use confected outrage. We need courage to say the right things, and we need to be courageous in order to calm down racial tensions, not inflame them just so that we have something to put on social media.

Mrs Maria Miller Portrait Mrs Maria Miller (Basingstoke) (Con) -